Steve Donoghue reviews books for The Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post and The National. He is one of the founding editors of the literary journal Open Letters Monthly and serves as its Managing Editor and the author of one of its bookblogs, Stevereads. Steve can be found on Twitter @stdonoghue
RaveOpen Letters Review... presents endless opportunities for an enterprising writer, and Baldwin has written the best book on the subject since City of Quartz. He helicopters his broader narrative down at carefully-chosen points in the city’s history ... This kind of kaleidoscopic approach is a risk, since it forfeits most narrative cohesion in its quest for momentum, but Baldwin makes it pay off ... It certainly conveys the persistent strangeness of the place, and this is hugely helped by Baldwin’s uncanny ability to get the best quotes out of the endless people he interviews over endless drinks in endless tacky bars. He’s amassed so many of these choice quotes that he can deploy them as punch lines ... If you’re not already under the odd spell that LA so often casts on even people who’ve never visited it, you’ll feel the light brushing of that spell while reading these pages; if you find the whole idea of Los Angeles vaguely, indefinably revolting, Baldwin’s anecdotes will make you seethe delectably with vicarious disapproval; and if you are indeed already bewitched by LA, you now have a new piece of required reading.
PanOpen Letters ReviewBonvicini spends just enough pages taking the reader...inside the opulent yet fearful world of kidnapping fears, armed guards on the way to and from school, and, as one character puts it, bombs going off like in wartime. Then she cuts the action and shifts the scene; much like the book’s two lovers, readers are never quite allowed to get completely comfortable in any era of the story before being whisked away to some new time ... It’s an alluring template, hampered only slightly here by the fact that both Olivia and especially Valerio oscillate between being simpletons and being nonentities. All the narrative’s older characters, particularly Morganti grandmother Manon, are so consistently more interesting than the two stars that some readers may find themselves grumbling ... Neither author nor translator seems like a convincing culprit, but somebody’s guilty of the many, many crimes against style, imagery, and even diction that fill almost every page of this book ... Either Bonvicini’s original prose is every bit as choked with the Italian originals of all these cliches and lazy idioms, or else Shugaar decided to leaven out a lifetime of excellent translations by tossing up a lousy one. Regardless of who committed the crime, the victim is obvious: if the reader can master the mental gymnastics of enjoying a story while overlooking practically everything about how that story is executed, then The Year of Our Love (in this very prettily designed edition from Other Press) will certainly exert real charm.
RaveOpen Letters Review... Cynthia Saltzman has mined a comparatively minor bit of cultural vandalism and produced an absolute gem ... at every moment Saltzman maintains a smooth, easy control over all of it. Plunder is captivating reading, a chronicle full of outsized personalities.
Guido Tonelli tr. Erica Segre and Simon Carnell
MixedOpen Letters ReviewTonelli’s descriptions of what amounts to his workplace are disappointingly fleeting in these pages; even the lay reader will be able to glean that the discovery of the Higgs boson is a major scientific event worthy of a long, detailed chronicle of its own. This isn’t that book. Instead, Tonelli maps those picoseconds of the universe’s birth onto, as the title suggests, the creation account in the Book of Genesis. The rationale behind this is impenetrable and maddening; there is no connection whatsoever between the three-thousand-year-old mythology of primitive tribesmen and the science of cosmology and particle physics, and any attempt to invoke one—especially by a scientist, for the love of Mike—is only counterproductively encouraging to the science-denying religious fundamentalists who already have way, way too much encouragement in the 21st century. The organizing conceit aside, however, Tonelli’s book is such a lively introduction to the current theorizing about the first 10-to-the-negative-30th seconds goings-on in the universe that you might actually find yourself understanding some of it. Talk about something out of nothing.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorTumulty seems aware of the uphill battle involved in writing a thoroughly researched and historically responsible biographical reassessment of a controversial figure like the first lady ... She’s written a masterpiece. Tumulty is well aware of her subject’s shortcomings ... Tumulty, who interviewed a legion of sources, presents a picture of the first lady as surprisingly earthy, an avid listener, and consistently, stealthily, kind ... All future biographies of her will have to start with this one[.]
MixedThe Open Letters Review... very entertaining, very frustrating ... very much a response-volume to the Trump presidency as much as it’s anything else ... [Boehner] is referring to the rabid, scorched-earth tenor of modern American politics, of course, and although he seems unwilling to ascribe the beginning of that tenor to his grandstanding old colleague Newt Gingrich, he’s perfectly willing to blame lots of other people ... Earthy, explicit language runs throughout the book. It reflects the way Boehner sounds in everyday conversation, and it’s clearly intended to convey sincerity. And it does, all too well. The cumulative impression is far from a compliment to its author. He comes across as a shallow, foul-mouthed, opportunistic dimwit who’s the hero of his own story only because he’s not one of the crazies. He implicitly characterizes himself as a rumpled but fundamentally honest avatar of the old, effective, non-crazy Washington of decades past, but it’s not tough to look good when you’re comparing yourself to outright traitors like Ted Cruz or Josh Hawley ... Any reading of Boehner’s book makes unavoidable the conclusion that although he’s not a bad American, he was still a pretty bad politician.
PositiveOpen Letters Review[a] breezy, chatty overview of what the Bible is, what it isn’t, where it comes from, and, most importantly, what it really does and doesn’t say ... all of the points Swenson makes will strike even entry-level secular participants in Bible study as obvious, pedestrian stuff ... And Swenson’s sometimes lumbering obliviousness doesn’t help matters any ... Nevertheless, A Most Peculiar Book has a very specific patch of ground to cover, and it covers that patch well. This is a talky, hey-did-you-know look at the oddities of the most famous book in the world, and although Kristin Swenson’s fellow students of religion might consider it familiar to the point of redundant, most readers will be surprised and amused on virtually every page.
PositiveThe Boston Globe... gripping ... populated with a large cast of well-drawn characters — including some, like JFK’s vice president, Lyndon B. Johnson, who haven’t featured this prominently in most earlier versions ... If rock layer isn’t to be buried by a much thicker one signaling the moment when the human race killed itself, Nuclear Folly reminds us that the time for study — and for action — is now.
MixedOpen Letters ReviewIt’s a fundamentally surprising kind of volume, something that already feels like an anachronism encountered in some museum’s dusty basement ... Merrill was a master of that antiquated kind of correspondence ... These letters could often strive for the feeling of being dashed off, but Merrill cared about them quite a bit ... Hammer and Yenser are as conscientious as you could reasonably hope. They carefully footnote every letter, identifying all the names of people, places, and books that fill Merrill’s chatter, and they include a glossary of important recurring names. But that only goes so far. The problem—and, far from being a problem, it was a glorious gift to the recipients of these letters—is that although Merrill was a literary perfectionist of the first water, he never insulted his correspondents by turning his letters into set pieces. Each letter in this volume is written to somebody, about things, with no attempt made at contextualizing. The prompting letters are not included, and neither are the responses, and no amount of either would be sufficient in any case. The result makes for fragmentary reading at best ... The result is a persistent feeling of listening through a keyhole to one half of the middle of a conversation. There are wonderful moments, everywhere ... But such moments are confirmations rather than discoveries—they’ll always tend to reward the faithful while confounding newcomers.
PositiveOpen Letters Review... boisterously satisfying ... Here are Heffer’s weaknesses, including a notable tendency to chase hares into the weeds (it requires a certain kind of wayward courage for a writer to hit his readers with five solid pages about Edwardian municipal architecture before they’ve even got their hats off). And here also are his strengths: encyclopedic knowledge, a deft ear for the right quotations, and a flair for dramatic character-portraits ... The Age of Decadence has great swaths of fascinating stuff on, as mentioned, architecture, and also art, music, apparel, as well as social upheavals, financial upheavals, political upheavals, and of course the increasingly audible murmur of war. And through it all, his focal points are people rather than trends ... Heffer is enthusiastically conscientious about making sure that upper-class swagger doesn’t dominate the book, even though most of the events in these pages are owned and moved around by Ribblesdale & Co. ... The Age of Decadence does an indomitable job of warning against the illusion—most of the signs of upheaval had been sporadically visible long before the Somme—and manages to be captivating reading in the process.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe pages of The Last Queen sketch out [Queen Elizabeth II\'s] biography as a series of embarrassments and tragedies. In each pugnacious and incredibly readable chapter, Irving reexamines all the famous crises of Elizabeth’s reign ...
PanOpen Letters ReviewThe author might disclaim any idea that Hello, Habits is meant to instruct or guide readers, but there’s scarcely any other conceivable reason for the book to exist, and my, my is it an unsettling prospect to get life-advice from somebody who, translator Eriko Sugita’s efforts notwithstanding, comes across as more than a little dim ... The book is [...] full of little tossed-off asides from which readers are encouraged to draw deeper life lessons, and virtually every single one of those tossed-off asides should instead be tossed out - as blockheaded, off-point, factually wrong, or all three.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...captivating ... Years ago, McCarthy impulsively self-published a book outlining some of his earliest thoughts on the subject. He called it North by Shakespeare, and in a neat gesture of writerly magnanimity, Blanding adopts that title in order to tell the story of McCarthy’s journey, North’s adventures, and, ultimately, the whole Shakespeare authorship question ... Blanding dramatizes very effectively the thrill of this literary investigation, giving readers a revelation-by-revelation account of the developments in McCarthy’s thinking without ever drowning them in trivia. The book likewise does a virtuoso job of evoking both the realities of Shakespeare’s world and the twists and turns of the whole Shakespeare question ... a curiously invigorating glimpse of that jobbing, hustling Shakespeare ... this isn’t some silly conspiracy theory. Orthodox scholars who simply ignore it do so at the peril of their reputations.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewReaders who ignore Brennan’s peripheral personal comments will nevertheless get the gist of them before they’ve gone 30 pages into this book: Brennan was Said’s friend and former student. This is not a bar to the writing of a biography, of course, but it can present an obstacle to writing an unbiased one. But it’s only an obstacle if you’re trying to overcome it ... Brennan is uniformly excellent in presenting the phenomenon of Edward Said, and in many senses that’s a more fundamental approach than presenting the man. The man, after all, made a nearly life-long career out of being a phenomenon, and a book that didn’t take that square on would be almost as unsatisfying as one that did. Brennan is powerfully eloquent on this fundamental Said paradox ... The brilliance of Brennan’s book is the way it so consistently turns the glare of the spotlight into flattering mood lighting. This is, of course, also its besetting flaw. His Said is the beleaguered humanist in every room of low-browed ideologues and closet (or cloak room) Zionists. When he’s misunderstood, he’s slandered; when he’s thwarted, he’s wronged. In his account, Said is a Caesar (when comes such another?) and it’s always the Ides of March.
PositiveOpen Letters Review... heartfelt ... It’s unlikely that Fulfillment will change behaviors. This must be squarely faced. Most people, presented with the option of shopping for literally anything in the world from the comfort of their living room couch and having it seamlessly delivered to their doorstep the next day, will not forsake that mind-boggling convenience for any reason ... But if Fulfillment makes even a few thousand of those consumers more mindful, if it prompts even a few thousand of them to remember that they have shops over on their Main Street that badly need their support and will greet them with smiles rather than an Amazon van dashing away in the dead of night, well, that will be a kind of victory.
PositiveOpen LettersVronsky has a great deal of experience researching these stories and then rendering them in vividly readable prose. He adopts a narrative tone throughout that\'s harsh but fascinated toward the monsters he\'s chronicling ... Vronsky\'s \'epidemic\' years have an end-point; he notes that the numbers are falling – a hopeful development, although not quite knowing its causes is naturally worrying. If a new epidemic is currently incubating, we can at least hope Vronksy is on the case to analyze it.
Janet M Hartley
RaveOpen LettersThe Volga is enormous, one of the longest rivers in the world, and covers so many different kinds of territory that it might well be said to thread different worlds together on its temperamental path to the Caspian Sea. In telling the story of those worlds, Harley is faced with an impossible narrative; any riparian history can only ever be a judicious culling from an infinite trove of stories ... The Volga tells many of the most dramatic of those stories - tales of war and disaster, famine and long marches played out against some of the most stunning landscapes anywhere on Earth ... Hartley smartly narrates peace and war, exploration and exploitation. The tale necessarily ends on notes of ecological caution; like all other natural features on the planet, the Volga has been greatly despoiled by the humans it’s helped over the centuries ... Janet Hartley has done a superb job writing the biography of a river that, despoiled or not, will be flowing long after its plaguing humans are gone.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... deeply impressive ... The whole spectrum of [...] passions is marvelously represented in these pages (which, charmingly, are illustrated throughout with the frontispieces of seminal Enlightenment works, rather than tired stereotypical paintings of Catherine the Great’s drawing room and such). Robertson has written a big, enthusiastic book about other books ... Diderot and his fellow valiant thinkers might not have liked the idea that reason, sympathy, and equality are so constantly vulnerable – but they’d have applauded such a big and optimistic book as this.
MixedThe Open Letters Review... gives the very palpable but muffled sense that the author isn’t quite saying what he means ... [Elder] is extremely versed in the period and its huge personalities, and throughout the book he uses a vividly readable prose style. His narration of Calhoun’s political life makes for unfailingly gripping reading ... A smart, bristling new life of Calhoun is no bad or redundant thing, and Elder’s book is a very worthy modern companion to Bartlett’s from 70 years ago...The only problem is the author’s murky justification for presenting the book in the first place, which is an admittedly trivial problem ... The world-wide Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020 - the inescapable candidate for what’s on Elder’s mind here - do not demonstrate in some contorted way that the ghost of John C. Calhoun still somehow dominates the country; the protests demonstrate just the opposite. Calhoun was indeed a dark foil of American progress and freedom, an extreme racist lunatic in his own day, and an extreme racist lunatic today. Good as Elder’s biography is, let’s hope it’s Calhoun’s last.
MixedOpen Letters ReviewPeter Mendelsund’s new novel, The Delivery, is for most of its length a lean, sweaty, hungry thing ... Mendelsund adopts a telegraphic style, with page after page filled with one-sentence paragraphs separated by dashes. At roughly the book’s half-way mark, actual prose starts to infiltrate the narrative and slow it down, but before that it races breathlessly along with the delivery boy on his rounds. ... When the delivery boy finally, inevitably opens his mysterious payload, readers come almost literally to the novel’s last five pages ... It’s possible that Mendelsund saw the revelations of those five pages as some kind of neato-keeno clever twist, perhaps some meta-smart reflection on The Refugee Experience. But they are in fact a total betrayal of all the attention the reader has paid out in order to reach them. Those final five pages profane the spare eloquence of the book’s first half, completely explode any sympathy engendered by the book’s second half, and gut the whole point of telling this story in the first place. That’s no mean feat for only a handful of pages, and it turns any verdict on the book into some kind of mulish enigma. What’s a reviewer to say? The Delivery is an almost addictively engaging book, and that’s why you shouldn’t read it?
RaveOpen Letters ReviewPark’s professional credentials are obvious and extensive, but it’s her easy, cheery writing style that carries the book. She makes the smart decision to ground virtually all of the enormous amount of information she wants to convey in the form of individual people - friends, patients, family members; this book is every bit as informative as a diagnostic overview would be, but it couldn’t be more different as a reading experience ... the book probes into every cranny of its many subjects, and Park writes about all of it with a commonizing touch that’s wonderfully inviting, even in the frequent instances where her mom-humor verges on the wince-worthy.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorTom Stoppard: A Life, has finally appeared. The book dresses out at almost 900 pages. This will be a cause for celebration among the many fans Lee has garnered with her other biographies ... This is about as authorized as an authorized biography can be ... Throughout the book, Lee perceptively discusses Stoppard’s work ... As so often happens in authorized biographies, readers are regularly subjected to appointment calendars in place of historical narrative ... There’s virtually nothing in Tom Stoppard: A Life that reflects even poorly, let alone damningly, on its subject. Is that because Stoppard has no flaws? Or is it because Lee would rather not speak ill of her friends, several of whom she thanks in the book’s acknowledgements, including Stoppard’s third wife and his lawyer? Time will certainly tell.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorLarman takes readers through the byzantine maneuverings behind the scenes .. It’s clear that Larman has much sympathy for Simpson ... Edward, on the other hand, is described as a \'wretched, quixotic ruler, an obsessed and demanding lover and, bar the odd instance of compassion and decency, a selfish and thoughtless man.\' Their shared Nazi sympathies, meanwhile, are mentioned mainly as political predicaments and not moral failings ... make[s] the end of the Windsor monarchy seem not only inevitable but imminent.
PanOpen Letters Review[Bradford] consults her extensive notebooks and jottings in order to construct and flesh out a timeline of her lovers, and, oddly, the tone of that endeavor throughout is vaguely aggrieved, as though there’s some long-standing historical imbalance to redress...Giving them such prominence smacks of giving the biography a topical angle, always a doomed approach to life-writing ... Equally dicey, when chronicling a novelist’s life, to view everything as notebook jottings. Bradford is all over the terrain on the point ... One thing is clear: if you’re going to claim in your autobiography of an author that the author’s novels are all exercises in autobiography, your readings of that author’s novels should be superbly penetrating...Bradford’s readings of Highsmith often verge on the banal, although they can sometimes raise interesting points ... at least one goal here is to write a ‘gay life’ of this famously bristly and repellant author. This is a necessarily reductive aim, not least because it works at cross purposes to all other aims. The Patricia Highsmith presented to readers in these pages is indeed a creature of lust and lies - but too often merely so, reduced to squalid trysts and corrosive dependencies. Her strange desires never entirely defined her, but they define this book.
PositiveThe Daily Star... a lively curiosity and a lively prose style ... This hopscotching approach has its weaknesses, of course: it tends to produce books that can feel scattershot, more conversational than scholarly (and that can lead to occasional slips, as when he asserts that the borders of the United States have \'little or nothing to do with any physical need for separation,\' when in fact most US state borders are drawn along rivers or other physically separating features). But the strengths of the approach are equally obvious: it\'s no small thing to sit down for a long conversation with a thinker and storyteller like Winchester, to find out what\'s on his mind this time, and which stories about his new subject have captured his imagination ... [a] charming and challenging book [.]
PositiveThe Open Letters ReviewIn charting Lincoln’s struggle with that conflict - as much an inner, personal quest as a matter of canny workaday politics - Oakes packs an absolutely enormous amount of research and contemplation into barely 200 pages. He’s never willing to exonerate Lincoln, and that makes The Crooked Path to Abolition unfailingly challenging reading. Much longer books have been written about the broiling constitutional issues on everybody’s lips in the 1850s, but as Oakes notes, comparatively little popular history work has been done on antislavery constitutionalism (he cites a 1977 study by William Wiecek as a groundbreaking work on the subject). This brief book works as a powerful corrective to that neglect; it’s a fascinating way to look at Lincoln the thinker.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewReaders of Craig Fehrman’s slam-bang fantastic book Author in Chief have been expecting a volume like this follow-up, The Best Presidential Writing. That earlier volume was a rousing, fascinating tour of all the different kinds of writing US Presidents have produced over the country’s two centuries, telling the stories of the stories, the biographies of these works, both the well-known ones and the obscure ones. This follow-up gives readers the writings themselves ... though the book thus ends on a flat, tinny note, it’s still a veritable symphony of presidential faux-profundity, the perfect pairing with Author in Chief and a must-read for the autumn book season.
RaveOpen Letters Review... there’s never been a better time for a book like IRL. It’s a book that deals with elemental urges in plain, direct language ... There are dozens of vivid metaphors in the course of this book ... At heart, IRL is a call to break this cycle through what may seem the oddest means imaginable: genuineness. \'It starts with letting ourselves be vulnerable and attached to the world around us instead of treating our digital lives as spaces where we can optimize and design ourselves out of discomfort.\' Odds are we’re all going to be living online for the foreseeable future. Stedman’s hard-won wisdom on the subject is well worth heeding.
Luke A. Nichter
PositiveOpen Letters Review[Nichter] is careful to ballast his book with colorful anecdotes; The Last Brahmin is unexpectedly entertaining reading throughout ... Fortunately, the bulk of The Last Brahmin displays a reassuring willingness to examine the multiplicity that was always part of Lodge’s public character, and the portraits of all the other major players - particularly Nixon - ring true.
Robin Lane Fox
PositiveThe Boston Globe... in part a very erudite detective story in which the author uses the tools of archeology and philology to shed light on a \'remarkable doctor and thinker\' ... these textual investigations are likely of more interest to Lane Fox’s fellow classicists than they are to the general reader, who’ll tend to be far more absorbed in the other major narrative strand that runs through the book: the excavation of the early, groping history of medicine as a craft ... thanks to Lane Fox’s patient scholarship, we feel like we’re visiting dozens of sickbeds and holding the hands of dozens of frightened people ... in addition to its more abstruse arguments, it brings the human dimensions of that world alive. You’ll finish it with the strong urge to send your doctor a bottle of wine and a note of heartfelt thanks.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorStothard makes a seemingly odd but ultimately wise organizational choice: He centers the bulk of his book on an assassin whose name will be unfamiliar to pretty much everybody except his fellow historians: Cassius Parmensis, an amateur philosopher and poet ... Centering so much of the story on Parmensis allows Stothard to craft a more miniature drama that’s at times intensely emotional—almost novelistic. He’s helped considerably in this by the fact that his primary source is Velleius Paterculus, a flamboyant historian not above telling tall tales if they made good reading ... The Last Assassin brings to vivid life the whole extended drama of the death of Julius Caesar and the rise of the young man who would become Augustus Caesar. It’s a remarkable reframing of that familiar old story.
MixedOpen Letters Review\"This contention, which undergirds most of his book, is entirely true: any strand of behavior that’s lasted throughout the whole length of human history is eminently worth serious study. And for the bulk of Magic, a History, that’s just what Gosden does. His inquiry looks back to prehistoric times and ranges across the whole breadth of the world, from ancient China to the Eurasian steppes to the long Middle Ages in Europe. His endeavor is to understand the role of magic in human societies over the sprawl of 40,000 years, and although that’s a mind-bogglingly enormous goal, the book pulls in a fascinating array of cultures and aspects of magic rites and rituals. The book’s central weakness is, unfortunately, its central tenet: \'Magical fictions are underpinned by magical fact.\' There is no such thing as \'magical fact\' ... Magic, a History is never less than fascinating, but readers should have their eye of newt handy for some of its more outlandish credulity.
Ronald Grigor Suny
PositiveOpen Letters Review... even the most intrepid among [readers] may balk at the prospect of spending yet another 800 pages with the same sloe-eyed psychopath who’s already occupied an army of biographers over the course of millions of pages ... Suny’s account of those early years is tremendously heartfelt and psychologically knowing ... throughout the book, Suny regularly reverts to the bigger canvas of ideas and movements, always in evocatively straightforward prose.
RaveOpen Letters Review... brilliant ... [other artistic] giants dominate the book, very often stealing the limelight from the deep intellect, mordant wit, and tortured psyche of Jacob himself ... His life is an extremely well-documented mystery, and Warren’s narrative everywhere glows with the ease and compassion of having lived with her research for many, many years. Jacob will never be as well-known to French or English-language readers as all of his friends were, but Warren’s account does more than any previous life in English to convey why so many people were his friends in the first place. She has sifted through that enormous trove of letters, and she’s extensively consulted the best French books on the subject...and the result is a hefty biography that shimmers with the sharpest chatter from the Lapin Agile ... Max Jacob: A Life in Art and Letters will likely stand as the definitive English-language life of this perennially enigmatic figure.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewThe King of the World [...] tends to take place on a far wider international scale than any previous English-language biography of Louis XIV. The King’s colorful and convoluted Court life usually tends to preoccupy his biographers, and Mansel seeks to counterbalance that with more detailed accounts of French colonial exploits far from Versailles. Mansel has mastered a bewildering array of primary and secondary sources dealing with his man and his time period, and he’s invested his entire narrative with a kind of tightly compressed narrative energy that has the most unlikely effect imaginable: it turns a 600-page biography of King Louis XIV into a genuine page-turner of a reading experience ... King of the World is a fine combination of intriguing and paradigm-shifting, one of the year’s grandest biographies ... there’s something oddly fitting about a Louis XIV biography being such an ostentatiously ornate thing; it’s a perfect finishing stroke for a genuinely impressive work.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewHeart Full of Rhythm: The Big Band Years of Louis Armstrong tells the pivotal story of Armstrong leaving the narrow loyalties of Carroll Dickerson’s Orchestra - the haphazard arrangements, the often-tenous finances, the desperate fraternal loyalty, the unmistakable on-stage magic - and stepping onto a much broader stage ... Heart Full of Rhythm is every bit as full and human as What a Wonderful World; in both cases, Riccardi, surely Armstrong’s foremost chronicler, mines the copious primary sources in order to flesh out the often turbulent details of Armstrong’s personal life ... a pricelessly detailed look at crucial periods in Armstrong’s life.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... magnificent ... If Clark’s goal in writing this big book, nearly a decade in the making, was to swap out that tired, overworked symbol for a three-dimensional human, in Red Comet she has succeeded far beyond the extent of all previous Plath biographies ... Clark is as perceptive about the work of this final year as she is about the rest of Plath’s writings ... Clark has consulted an enormous array of primary sources in order to assemble this life, ranging from unpublished letters and psychiatric records to interviews with virtually everybody who knew Plath or worked with her. The result is a clearer and more comprehensive account of Plath’s life than any that have appeared before, particularly strong in analyzing the complexities of her evolving relationship with Hughes but also wonderfully detailed in giving readers a look at the life of a working author ... although Clark sometimes succumbs to the biographer’s curse of over-documentation (we get the point long, long before every single rejection slip is accounted for), this granular picture of Plath the writer is invaluable in dispelling that image of a death-obsessed high priestess. This is a Sylvia Plath who jokes and loves and encourages and horses around. It’s an intensely human portrait.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewGretton is doing something more generous and more complex than simply chronicling the noxious anonymity of desk-killers—more generous, more complex, and therefore necessarily more daring, more open to looking either distracted or self-indulgent or both ... I You We Them carefully uses this tension between the personal and the historical in order to ratchet up the fascination along these two axes. Half the book is both an unsettling historical inquiry and, by not very subtle implication, a warning, a potential indictment of every single person who reads it and who might some day, under pressure, stamp a lethal memo that crosses their desk. And the other half of the book is the oddly engrossing personal story of the man doing the inquiring. The result is completely, confidently fascinating and naturally sets the imagination wondering about what Volume 2 will be like.
Thomas A. Schwartz
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorDrawing on a vast amount of primary sources (including interviews with the man himself), Schwartz carefully charts Kissinger\'s evolution as one of the 20th century\'s most controversial statesmen ... Schwartz always remembers to add darkly fascinating personal elements ... readers who watched that history as it was unfolding will almost certainly find Henry Kissinger and American Power disconcertingly evenhanded in assessing how Kissinger acquired the reputation upon which so much political clout rests.
MixedThe Open Letters ReviewGoldsworthy is a first-rate popular historian of the ancient world, but he’s only as good as his primary sources, and in this case that’s a significant limitation. Even in the last twenty years alone, a score of conscientious and sometimes crusading biographies of Philip have appeared, each one attempting to rescue him and his accomplishments from the glare of his son’s renown ... They’re doomed to failure, of course, because we’re dealing with stories here, and Alexander has by far the better story. Goldsworthy’s book is nearly 600 pages long, and Philip takes a knife between his ribs before page 200 ... The two narratives here - Philip’s, full of wives, concubines (of both genders), and militaristic bluster, and Alexander’s, full of dramatic leadership, epic set-piece battles, and a wide swath of the ancient world - can never be made to mesh well, since Alexander’s doesn’t properly start until Philip’s ends. Goldsworthy does as good a job as can be done, although he’s curiously ineffective at one of his main stated aims: the book very memorably belongs to Alexander. As an Alexander biography, it’s lean and very good; as a study of Philip, it feels as strained and perfunctory as all those other studies of Philip. Studies of careful preparation can be interesting, but when the end sequel to that careful preparation is Alexander the Great, even a saint is going to be impatiently fidgeting for the conquest of Persia to begin ... Goldsworthy’s book is inescapably that book, but he brings a careful, often insightful balance to the familiar stories. His Alexander is far more compelling than his Philip, and though the one-eyed old ghost may rage at that, there’s no helping it.
PositiveThe Open Letters Review... true to this author’s rather unflinching humanism ... necessarily a Herculean effort at speculation ... we don’t come to Zakaria’s books for their crystal ball. It’s fascinating to watch this author’s mind at work, regardless of the direction or likelihood of that work ... This book ranges across a wide array of possible changes that might be brought about by the plague, and most of the speculation is firmly grounded in the observable present-day realities of shutdown, quarantine, and economic downturn on a global scale.
MixedOpen Letters Review... Marchant [gives] spirited and well-researched overviews of mankind’s long history of trying to understand the cosmos in art, religion, and the first budding steps of science. Those overviews are uniformly superb; Marchant is gifted at telling the stories of artists, prelates, and especially the scientists of earlier centuries. And the book keeps its focus squarely on the many ways all of that understanding, both flawed and sound, filtered outward to ordinary people, always attempting to draw direct connections between the wider world of nature and the intimate world of each individual ... Too often for comfort, she resorts to straw men ... If there’s a benefit to be reaped by taking that rational approach and mixing in some irrationality just to retain a version of the awe or wonder that the Babylonians had four thousand years ago, The Human Cosmos doesn’t make any convincing case for it.
RaveOpen Letters Review... a...fitting sideways commentary on our current world, the perfect quarantine novel: confined to its home, always noticing new things, suspicious of visitors, fracturing on the edge of sanity ... Piranesi looks like pure whimsy, which, however entertaining, is the betrayal of craft and the negation of drama. But with Clarke’s fiction there are always layers of complexity shifting tectonically against each other, and here the artifice around those conflicts is sharpened by being fabulized. The enchantment Clarke manages to sustain throughout these pages will leave even the canniest reader completely unprepared for the book’s stunning conclusion. It will leave them wondering, with a hard look of assessment, just how much time they themselves have been spending in Piranesi’s house.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... easily the best book on the subject since Douglas Brinkley’s 2006 The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Beyond delving into the tangled history of Louisiana politics, Horowitz’s book thoughtfully attempts to understand the cultural nature of these calamities ... an intriguing look at the social dynamics that so often play out in natural disasters ... the fact that Katrina’s impact fell disproportionately on poor Louisianans raises a host of issues that Horowitz addresses better than any previous narrative history of the catastrophe.
Ian W. Toll
RaveThe Open Letters ReviewToll skillfully shifts his narrative focus throughout all of this from the broad-scale operational side of things to the personal and even anecdotal ... Naturally, the book’s tragic, dramatic high point deals with the main reason for that abrupt surrender: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Toll narrates this gruesomely familiar part of his story with the solemnity of a modern-day morality play; every detail is familiar from earlier accounts, but he imbues them a very readable austerity, as when he’s dealing with the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima ... the title’s meaning is a bit of a mystery to me ... traffics in such familiar narratives throughout its length, always guided by Toll’s spare eloquence and obvious mastery of his vast array of source materials. The Pacific Theater has had entire libraries of histories written about it over the last seven decades (with many, many more such histories to come, since 2021 marks a nice clean 80 year anniversary of its beginning), and Toll has written a trilogy fit to stand with some of the best of them.
RaveThe Washington PostHolden obviously relishes bringing to life her famous cast of characters ... Standing out gloriously even from this colorful cast is Queen Elizabeth, by far Holden’s most winning fictional creation in these pages ... this Queen Elizabeth thoroughly steals the show, both from Marion Crawford and from the future Queen Elizabeth, the teenager waiting in the wings throughout the book. Here, as in all other books, that other Elizabeth remains stubbornly opaque ... This can be as much a weakness as a strength when it’s overdone. Holden hardly ever passes up an opportunity to lean on her reader’s shoulder and whisper: Irony, huh? How about that irony? ... It’s an overindulgence, but it’s this author’s only one. In all other respects, The Royal Governess is spirited, virtually clockwork enjoyment, humanizing the Windsor world through the death of two kings, the ordeal of an abdication and the very real dangers of a world war. Through it all, Marion Crawford is convincingly passionate, respected by everybody in her glittering new world ... a very satisfying reading experience. It’s doubtful the queen would enjoy it, but pretty much everybody else will.
Edward O. Wilson
RaveThe Boston Globe...a rapturously unapologetic hymn of praise to the roughly one quadrillion ants on the planet ... It’s to his credit that he doesn’t sugarcoat the harsh realities of the ant world, which is overwhelmingly matriarchal ... His fascination with them virtually glows in these pages ... full of just such amazement, most of it presented with the infectious enthusiasm that only a life-long teacher and popularizer like Wilson could muster.
Maria Dahvana Headley
MixedOpen Letters Review[I]f brainy college students were still allowed to congregate in dormitory lounges, Headley’s Beowulf would certainly start some heated arguments. There are two reasons for this, one good and one bad ... The bad reason is simple: this is very often and at almost all key points a noticeably inaccurate translation of what the surviving manuscript of Beowulf actually says, and the inaccuracies are all intentional and all tending toward the author’s preferred interpretation of the poem ... But the fact that Headley’s book is useless as a translation of Beowulf (once you whole-cloth make things up, you guarantee that) doesn’t in any way undercut the main reason for reading it: as a poetic meditation on the poem, it’s full of startlingly powerful and often raucously lovely language.
PositiveThe Open Letters ReviewDraper obliquely acknowledges that subsequent events have conspired to make the whole Bush family look better in retrospect, and although this is certainly true - George W. Bush being a stubborn dimwit but not a free-associating sociopathic monster - it can’t possibly save this book from old and not-so-old angers, as Draper must know better than anybody ... Wolfowitz figures on almost every page of To Start a War, and although Draper is far too wise an old fox to lapse into ventriloquism - at the end of the book, it is still eminently possible to loathe Wolfowitz - there’s an inevitable coloring of the familiar narrative ... Draper is a consistently vivid writer, employing throughout a pugnacious journalistic tone that can at times leave bruises ... Draper’s narrative brings it all back as vividly as any book has done in over a decade. This is a layered, multi-faceted account of a diplomatic, political, and military disaster, a veritable tornado of violence and murder that fed on outrage and national pain in order to reshape the world, clumsily and contradictorily. There’s no sane way to ease the Iraq War into sense or respectability, and Draper doesn’t try. But the quiet, balanced gravity he brings to the whole subject does indeed, miraculously, serve to lower the temperature on the subject a bit ... At the center of the story is George W. Bush, and his portrait in these pages is the most likely barometer of how close that balanced gravity ever comes to the thin-gruel whitewashing that is the heart of ‘time heals all wounds\' ... an even-handed historical assessment of a chapter in US history that even now resists even-handed treatment. It’s an important book, and important contribution to the understanding of that chapter, and the fact that it’s unlikely to satisfy completely every passionate partisan news-watcher from a decade ago is probably it’s greatest strength.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorCohen has taken her fascination with – and personal dependence on – one great author and transmutes it into something any reader in the world will find downright marvelous ... The reading focus here, of course, is Austen, and even the most dedicated Janeites will find in these pages plenty of fascinating insights into their author. The book is at once an impressive analysis of Austen’s fiction and a first-rate biography of the author herself ... a shining account of how indispensable books can be.
PanThe Open Letters ReviewFraternity’s eight stories look at Delta Zeta Chi from eight different angles, but the essentials remain the same throughout: the bro-life nicknames like Borat or Oprah or Nutella or Dracula, the deployment of the starched minimalism that has become a staple of contemporary Yaddo/MacDowell fiction, the carefully code-worded misogyny, and, unfortunately, the serial mistaking of poor, jumbled prose for cool-cat idiosyncrasy ... Nugent’s book is only one workshopped story north of 100 pages, and yet it absolutely brims with the anomie and nihilism that gives so much modern fiction the affect of a muttering Goth teenager. His young characters do crappy things to each other for crappy reasons that are only ever transactionally assessed by either the characters or the author. It’s a gray landscape and an inherently uninteresting one, since it’s exclusively inhabited by vacuous, self-obsessed idiots. And since if the characters were to grow or change or improve in any way that would imply that the author is a simp, a cuck, an uncritical tool of cultural propaganda, the characters never grow or change or improve.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorTye has researched extensively and consulted more archival material than has been available to any previous McCarthy biographer...All of this research allows Tye to correct the biographical record on a few comparatively minor points, but mere corrections do not provide a ringing defense. McCarthy’s postwar career only makes it more difficult for anyone trying to find a relatable human being underneath the myth ... Public opinion turned against McCarthy, the Senate voted to censure him, and he died at age 48 in 1957. Tye narrates all of this in greater detail and with greater sympathy than any previous biographer, and he recognizes not only the uphill task of even partially defending McCarthy but also the dark associations with the present political moment ... does an impressive job of shedding new light on Joe McCarthy, but the more light is shed, the more repulsive he appears.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... compelling ... George Bancoft’s portrait is only one of many utterly gripping depictions scattered throughout Union. Woodard has wisely decided that a book about history must necessarily include historians ... The stakes are nothing short of determining how a nation thinks about itself, how it teaches posterity about itself. In Union, that battle sprawls out of the narrow confines of academia and embroils the entire country—and the fight is ongoing.
PanThe Open Letters Review... the extent to which you like this novel, maybe the extent to which you fall for the hype, will largely depend on your willingness to agree when the author tells you that two plus two is five ... one of many such decidedly odd narrative decisions Leilani makes in the course of the book ... This is not slice-of-life; this is Slutty Mistress of Narnia ... Is this kind of stuff slyly profound? Or is it just another example of the chic-progressive racism that’s become blandly accepted among the literati in the 21st century? Certainly a white-skinned author who wrote a paragraph like that about black characters would be social-media exiled to Ultima Thule for the rest of time, but Leilani is far more likely to be cheered for real-world tell-it-like-it-is verisimilitude by the same hipsters out in Willamsburg who\'ve uncomplainingly swallowed all the science fiction that crops up elsewhere in the book ... There is ample intelligence in Luster, but it\'s unfocused. There\'s plenty of biting social commentary, but it\'s scatterbrained and almost wincingly hypocritical. There\'s some very sharp writing, but it\'s buried in Twitter posturing and self-pitying ennui. In other words, it\'s Sally Rooney 2.0. So maybe Leilani\'s characters aren\'t the only ones who know how to play the game.
Peter J. Thuesen
RaveOpen Letters ReviewThuesen is insightful and interesting and even witty on a whole range of natural disasters that have struck America in the last three centuries. He’s combed through the frightened and impressionistic newspaper accounts that tend to follow such disasters, and he’s carefully non-demagogic about charting the interpretations of the countless priests and ministers who’ve sought to explain the inexplicable, to rationalize the irrational, and sometimes to weaponize an omni-directional explosion. Thuesen does this without much more than a trace of anger; the little miracle of Tornado God is that it can tell so many stories of credulousness and hypocrisy without becoming embittered by it all. The book will fascinate the many thousands of Americans who live in tornado country and will hear the familiar dolorous klaxon several times this summer (and perhaps be unfortunate enough to hear various clergy members try to make sense of a ten-block swath of devastation). But Tornado God has points of interest for any reader who’s wondered what an ‘act of God’ may or may not say about the deity. And the book arrives on the doorstep of the American hurricane season.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe horror of fratricide is merely the price of admission to the family drama Penn here relates. By the time Edward has George murdered, readers have already watched these two and Richard plot against and brood about each other for hundreds of pages, and Penn’s superb gifts as a storyteller make those pages as enjoyable an account of this chaotic period in English history as anything since Thomas Costain’s The Last Plantagenets nearly 60 years ago ... despite George’s sociopathic cowardice and Edward’s fratricidal callousness, the villain of any volume like The Brothers York will always be Richard. In the book’s first half, he’s an undoubtedly brave but somewhat slippery figure, and like most biographers, Penn can scarcely disguise his fascination with this most infamous of Shakespeare’s villains. But as the narrative moves forward, as Richard steadily accumulates wealth and influence under his brother’s watchful tutelage, the intensity of the drama increases ... Penn has told that story with such sweep and enthusiasm that his book easily takes its place alongside similar volumes by Dan Jones and Desmond Seward. The central hypothetical – how might history have changed if these three brothers had been at all fraternal – remains unanswerable, but Penn’s book makes it enormously enjoyable to ponder.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewA wary reader might glance at Posner’s book and expect the worst, because any book that discusses honestly why the American evangelical community has embraced Donald Trump must lay waste to both sides of that relationship - a thing virtually no mainstream \'Trump book\' has been willing to do. This one does ... Those grievances - against modernity, against compassion, against every kind of equality other than the equality of the male heads of households in white suburbs of the Deep South - are the hard, bitter kernel of Unholy’s story. Posner never loses sight of them, never calls them by anything other than what they are, never insults the importance of her subject with euphemisms ... very pointedly not written to pander to such people, which is intensely refreshing. And if any of those people should happen to read it and allow it to change their devotions, so much the better. It might actually save their life.
Nicholas A Basbanes
PositiveThe Open Letters ReviewBasbanes is a seasoned writer on bookish subjects, a compassionate investigator, and Cross of Snow is a quietly superb Longfellow biography, fit to stand alongside its scandalously few predecessors ... a fast-paced and eloquent account of a man whose beautiful, knowing poetry has been made to seem as outdated as crinoline or starched collars. Poetry itself enjoys barely a fraction of the popularity today that it had when Longfellow was an international celebrity, and that tiny readership largely ignores him. It’s doubtful that any book, even one by an author as beloved as Basbanes, will be able to change that - the tenacious strength of snobbery being what it is - but bless him for trying.
PositiveThe Ope... assembles everything modern scholarship can know or reasonably guess about this figure, although the sheer amount of doubt and patchwork that remains accounts for both the relative brevity of the book and for the fact that Boin is often prompted to issue factual disclaimers ... Alaric’s career is reconstructed with an intense, almost conversational readability and one of the most consistently pleasing elements of the job Boin does in these pages is the element of surprise, a certain lack of complacency that sees the author questioning things that might stand as givens in a less inquisitive book. Even the most predictable backdrop of the Alaric story - the alleged systemic debauchery and corruption of 5th century Rome - is here given a refreshing re-appraisal ... far more of a biographical sketch than a biography given the skimpy and often conflicting nature of so many of the sources for such a study, is even so the first such study Alaric has received in many years - perhaps his first ever in English. This alone would make it important, but through a pleasing combination of scholarship and storytelling, Douglas Boin has also made it enjoyable.
MixedOpen Letters ReviewOn one level, this seems thin gruel to make into a meal of a 400-page novel. Weir excels at the task, often adding descriptive flourishes that ring true ... But there are limits to what even a practiced historian and novelist can do with this story. Katheryn Howard was not wronged, as Queen Catherine was; she was not devious, as Anne Boleyn was; she was not gracious, as Jane Seymour was, and unlike all three of those women, she never had any kind of personal relationship with King Henry. She was a lusty teenager before she met him, a lusty teenager while she was his queen, and a lusty teenager when her head was cut off ... prompts some of Weir’s laziest writing to date in this series.
RaveThe Open Letters ReviewOnce these thematic commonalities have been laid out, the examination that follows is utterly delicious. Lesser is the perfect, upbeat guide to all this dour Nordic wet-wash, and she’s eloquent on the bedrock reasons why people might subject themselves to such books in the first place ... It’s a brave author who can so blithely link the term \'sadistic tendencies\' with the experience of reading something written by, for instance, Henning Mankell, but Lesser is tenaciously hoping that she’s preaching to the convertible ... Nordic noir has an unaccountably enormous fan-base, and Wendy Lesser has written the ultimate love-letter to both those books and those fans. And given how endlessly allusive Scandinavian Noir is, even those fans may find some new recommendations in these pages, along the general principle of misery loving company, one assumes.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorGellman narrates all the twist and turns of this story with a gusto worthy of John le Carré ... That air of menace hangs over Dark Mirror, mainly because Gellman himself is always mentioning it ... The narrative presents precious few footholds for empathy, either for Snowden or for U.S. government officials. Right down the chain of command, the latter come across extremely poorly ... And Gellman inserts himself into the book to a degree that seems unnecessary ... The Snowden of Dark Mirror embodies a noxious combination of arrogance and self-pity...[unlike] the semi-heroic figure that Gellman perhaps intended to paint, or the modern-day saint venerated by an entire generation of young people. But Gellman’s Snowden is a truth teller nonetheless.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... riveting ... The thrilling dramatic turn at the heart of The Hour of Fate is the great anthracite coal strike of 1902, in which the coal miners’ union demanded higher pay and safer working conditions ... It’s a complicated and terrific story, and Berfield tells it with an extremely skillful blend of wide-canvas exposition and small-scale personal drama. Her characters, particularly Roosevelt and Morgan, come alive in all their multifaceted natures.
MixedThe Open Letters Review... reading these pages is often nothing short of horrifying. After finishing The End of October, readers will reflexively flinch from the phrase \'like something out of a novel\' ... Every twenty pages or so (the rough frequency of Wright’s exposition-dumps), readers living in quarantine and watching the news every day for escalating death-counts, readers already fixedly, wearily familiar with novel terminology like \'pandemic\' and \'vector\' and \'herd immunity\' and \'lockdown,\' will have to brace themselves for more of their grim new realities being weirdly transmuted into thriller-fiction before their eyes. Many of those readers simply won’t be able to continue reading ... The novel isn’t even \'too soon\' - it’s \'ongoing,\' and that may be too much for people who are worrying in the here-and-now about elderly relatives, lost jobs, or lines to enter the grocery store. Those people of course have an endless array of escapist reading to help, but they should remember that Wright here is an exceptionally lucky visionary, not a soulless opportunist. It’s not his fault that we’re all living in the worst-case-scenario he only imagined. And although it’s not great literature by any stretch, The End of October is by default the most timely book imaginable.
David Allen Sibley
PositiveThe Open Letters Review... in addition to a barrage of fascinating facts, these pages are full of Sibley’s own artwork: color drawings of birds in every mood and motion, and black-and-white drawings of a more anatomical, informational nature ... And all along the way, hundreds of bird behaviors are explained in great, sometimes wonky detail ... [the book] is trying to draw readers not into the identification of species in the field but into the world of birds, the why and how of what they do all day long. And its larger size and beautiful artwork makes it the perfect bird book to share with kids.
RaveThe Open Letters Review... thrillingly good ... Bate is a renowned scholar and a first-rate biographer, and Radical Wordsworth breathes with exactly the kind of relaxed authority that’s always made his books a joy to read ... Bate writes about the younger Wordsworth with an immediate sympathy that fills the narrative with urgent letters, urgent book-reading, and urgent friendships of all kinds. It’s an account remarkably unhaunted by that older, more placid Wordsworth, a faded figure Bate describes in appealingly personal terms ... the exhilarating ascent now has a biographical account that matches its passion.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorBecoming Wild teems with communication of all kinds, with complex, empathetic creatures solving the problems of their worlds ... Safina imparts a naturalist’s sense of unending wonder ... He also returns to the idea that humans are not the center of the universe. He recognizes that this makes some people uncomfortable. Among its many virtues, Becoming Wild eases such discomfort. It takes the concerns of Safina’s incredibly moving 2015 book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, and puts more faces on its common-sense revelations.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorBecoming Wild teems with communication of all kinds, with complex, empathetic creatures solving the problems of their worlds ... Safina imparts a naturalist’s sense of unending wonder ... He also returns to the idea that humans are not the center of the universe. He recognizes that this makes some people uncomfortable. Among its many virtues, Becoming Wild eases such discomfort. It takes the concerns of Safina’s incredibly moving 2015 book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, and puts more faces on its common-sense revelations.
PositiveThe Open Letters ReviewThis second volume takes advantage of the same kind of open access to records, bringing readers particularly into the relaxed and surprisingly welcoming private life Calder and his wife Louisa shared for decades with friends and family members in homes like the one they had in Roxbury, Connecticut. Perl has combed through every scrap of documentation connected with Calder (this second volume has over 40 pages of often discursive notes), and he time and again combines the best elements to produce wonderful set-details ... the definitive biography of its subject, but the subject itself presents often insuperable problems even for a biographer as relentlessly upbeat and even occasionally starry-eyed as Perl. These problems are twofold: first, since these Knopf volumes are well illustrated, readers are presented with the same challenge that has always faced students of the avant-garde, presented with a manifestly ugly creation - book, symphony, painting, building, or, in Calder’s case, \'mobiles\' and various heaps of scrap metal - and told either that it isn’t, in fact, ugly, or that its ugliness is a strength rather than a defect. Perl has been writing about modern art for a long time; he’s long since learned all the ways that exist to talk away this first problem ... The second problem is more fundamental to the art of biography, which is that Calder was very, very often a brusque, oblivious boor...The bearish charm is often more elusive, but maybe that’s the nature of this particular beast.
MixedOpen Letters Review...an elegant and involving book ... Cassandra Austen knew with perfect clarity that her sister belonged to all ages - she was the first to know it. The fact that she treated her sister’s letters as her own personal property is both a searing indictment and the very reason why there’s any artistic point to the informed guesswork of a book like Miss Austen ... Miss Austen is a moving portrait of Cassandra Austen but not a convincing one. Readers will come away feeling they know the whole extended Austen family more intimately than any biography could make possible, but Jane Austen fans will not forgive. And if Hornby’s next book is a sympathetic look at John Murray as he burns Lord Byron’s memoirs, well, it’ll be time to fire up the wood-chipper again.
MixedThe Open Letters ReviewIf Trump takes the podium in the White House briefing room and delivers a rambling, muttering completely incoherent slew of resentment, innuendo, and spite, Karl and his network behave like clockwork: they seize on a couple of semi-coherent half-sentences, they stitch together various semi-points often separated by 30 minutes of garbled nonsense, and they tediously rebut \'factual inaccuracies\' they know perfectly well are fully conscious lies. In other words, they normalize Trump, again and again...That is not informing the public. That is not asking tough questions. That is certainly not holding those in power accountable ... is not in-the-moment reporting, of course, although it’s a reporter’s book. In these pages Karl is free to add more flesh to the bones, to spin some of his anecdotes into the kinds of stories that can be excerpted on cable news shows. He provides pacing; he provides color ... The principal events of Trump’s first three years in office are presented through Karl’s perspective. That perspective is often valuable - Karl has known Trump for decades - and Front Row at the Trump Show is often entertaining reading. And if it becomes a bestseller, well, that’s how deals are made, right?
RaveThe Open Letters Review... an inspired conceit for a group biography, a location biography, and Wade writes it beautifully. She’s every bit as masterfully adept whether she’s writing about the obvious star of her show, Virginia Woolf, whose every hiccup and sneeze has been the subject of a 500-page book, or whether she’s writing about figures like Power or Harrison, who will be less well-known to most of her readers, and she excels at highlighting the skeins that bind them together ... Wade’s capsule biographies reach five different endings, of course, and she does such a lively job of presenting the cast that her readers will feel a touch of grief at their passing ... filled with the thousand triumphs little and big of five very different working writers. The whole thing breathes with infectious readability.
Sharon Kay Penman
PositiveOpen Letters Review... there’s an even larger cast of characters than usual for a Penman novel, and the author here is in very strong form ... young Baldwin, by far the novel’s most compellingly-drawn character, is a believably complex and melancholy ... The book is thoroughly absorbing reading, even though apart from the sign-post battle of Hattin in 1187 it doesn’t have many big organizing plot points. Penman’s writing style is so companionable that most readers won’t mind the slight wandering of the narrative, although this author’s penchant for loading every scene with every historical detail within reach takes some getting accustomed to for newcomers ... Readers familiar with Penman’s long shelf of historical novels will eagerly welcome this everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach, and The Land Beyond the Sea shows off that approach to marvelous effect.
MixedOpen Letters ReviewReef Life is a richly impressionistic personal tour of the coral reef world before it’s gone forever ... The \'memoir\' part of \'an underwater memoir\' can occasionally become grating or boring or both. Readers wanting to learn all about coral reefs from one of the world’s leading experts will be a bit frustrated by how often Callum’s novelistic tendencies draw them into petty office politics instead ... folksy digression might be inexcusable unless it was done as effectively as Rachel Carson could often do it, but memoirs are notoriously more permissive creatures. Instead, here the element serves to underscore what readers will have known but might have forgotten: it’s real flesh-and-blood people who are out there in the far fishy outposts of the wild world, trying to preserve something old and beautiful from the rising tides.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorGerald Posner’s Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America could be seen as the 2020 equivalent of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, The Jungle, which led to public outrage over the meat-packing industry ... His unsettling book, five years in the making and buttressed by a trove of documentation, is not only a careful history, it’s also a staggering indictment of pharmaceutical companies ... On page after page, Posner describes incidents of drug companies lying to investigators, manipulating politicians and political systems, twisting regulations, and intentionally foisting unnecessary, dangerous, and overpriced products on some of the most vulnerable segments of society ... The penultimate chapter of Posner’s book, The Coming Pandemic, refers to the troubling side effect, according to Posner and others, of the pharmaceutical industry’s flooding of the market with antibiotic drugs: the steady rise of drug-resistant strains of bacteria. The blame for that development, as well as for the opioid crisis, Posner lays squarely at the feet of Big Pharma.
PositiveOpen Letters Review...proceeds with the smooth, practiced ease of precision clockwork ... a satisfyingly multifaceted mystery that develops some oddly subdued tones. The narrative is oppressed on virtually every page with the heat and humidity of Venice in high summer (characters are forever daubing themselves), and the nature of the crime brings familial concerns to the surface for every character ... crepuscular notes tame the momentum of Trace Elements, but Leon’s books have always been more conversational than combustive. Our heroes persevere through the heat and the red herrings, and the book’s final act will have readers hoping Brunetti keeps postponing that retirement indefinitely.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorWine-Banks has chosen to employ a highly passionate and personal voice in crafting the narrative. The more you read, the more uncannily effective this choice becomes. She has been a trailblazer in many legal skirmishes since Watergate, but her decision to write this book in the excited, impressionistic tones of her 1971 self serves to make the book very immediate reading ... Her portraits of her colleagues, especially of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, are warmly affectionate, but it’s her cumulative portrait of herself as a smart, courageous true believer during one of the country’s darkest moments that becomes the book’s most memorable feat of dramatic reconstruction.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThose earlier books came alive with an uncanny momentum. So, too, with The Mirror & the Light ... the strain on credulity throughout these novels has been Mantel’s insistence that her readers believe in a Cromwell who’s not only likable but, in a way, noble ... Mantel is exquisite in these final pages ... even the most monstrous characters are given shades of touching empathy (including Henry, here given far more texture than in the earlier two books).
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... amazing ... In fewer than 300 pages, Lurking offers readers not only some highly relatable snapshots of McNeil’s personal engagement with online life since the early 1990s but also presents a history of what that engagement has been like for all of us. And it’s all written without a trace of the Good-Old-Days nostalgia so often found in histories of this kind. Her book is that trickiest of things: a cautionary tale without a Golden Age ... does offer some stubborn hope for reclaiming a measure of, for instance, privacy and control of our own data ... No matter what the solution ends up being, McNeil’s debut is a classic piece of writing about the perils and promise of online life. Lurking belongs in the company of other classics such as James Gleick’s wise The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood from 2011, 2018’s Twitterbots: Making Machines that Make Meaning by Mike Cook and Tony Veale, and Shoshana Zuboff’s magnificent 2019 book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.Lurking will feel more personal to readers than any of those earlier books – and more powerful for that reason.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor... [a] fantastic entry in the Bloomsbury Sigma series of science-related titles ... despite countless science fiction cautionary tales, humans are still reflexively eager to meet sentient alien life. Those enthusiasts should read The Contact Paradox before laying out the welcome mat.
PositiveOpen Letters Review...an equally-indispensable companion volume...which duplicates the methodology of the previous book: dozens of interviews, a great deal of supporting research, and most of all the author’s consistently superb analyses ... the bulk of the book is brilliant and balanced. Once again Orenstein amasses a large amount of first-hand responses and then bears down on them with a clarity that’s always thrilling to watch and often oddly counter-intuitive ... This book and its predecessor constitute the necessary alternative to damage control. Here’s hoping parents are reading.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... [a] joyfully engrossing debut ... Surely that eternal task has never had so comprehensive a chronicle as this one. When contemplating the tall mountain of literary garbage Fehrman had to scale in order to write with such authority, even the adventurous reader must pale in terror ... Fehrman also consistently pays these writings the compliment of reading them critically ... juicy controversies and conversation-starters are the consistently found treats of Author in Chief, regardless of where you find yourself on the political spectrum. And the implication throughout—that books are vitally important to the nation’s soul—will surely appeal to red and blue state readers alike.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorKershaw’s big, generous history is much more a Vercingetorix book than a Germanicus one. In a series of densely researched chapters, Kershaw acquaints readers with a gallery of the enemies of Rome, and it’s a testament to the charismatic nature of the underdog that most readers will recognize far more of those alien names than they would the names of the Roman generals who faced them in battle ...Kershaw’s easy command of the classical sources makes the battles and stalemates gripping reading, but most of the Romans come across as mere avatars of a greedily expanding empire ... Kershaw...has a tendency to exaggerate the already dramatic stakes ... The result is a curiously fascinating inverted portrait of a thousand years of Roman history, with events and battles and marquee personalities seen, as much as possible, through the eyes of the despised and defeated opposition. The Enemies of Rome becomes an anti-triumphalist counterpoint to the standard history of the empire.
PanThe Open Letters Review... one of the most-credentialed Trump-books yet to appear ... a noteworthy Trump book is still a Trump book, and by now one other thing is known about them: they’re every bit as sordid, opportunistic, and money-grubbing as their subject. They can’t help but be; if you touch the pitch of a lifelong grifter and conman like Trump, for a book contract, no amount of credentials will save you from being defiled. Rucker and Leonnig might want to raise public consciousness about a whole range of alarming aspects of Trump in power, but they also want to make a quick buck by scare-mongering ... There are plenty of scares on hand in these pages, certainly ... Forty percent of the country’s population un-ironically considers Trump a god; the US Senate has voted to acquit him in an impeachment trial in which his lawyers failed to defend him on the facts; and the prospect of a 2020 Trump landslide looms. Not A Very Stable GeniusNew York Times bestseller.
PanOpen Letters Review... lavish with a repulsive combination of backbiting and self-pity, with ample anecdotes cutting famous male authors down to size and citing how massively overworked Miller was while fielding literary submissions all day long ... Ironically, it’s this tell-all element about a famous cult-favorite male author that forms the longest and most memorable portion of an ostensibly anti-patriarchy bit of autobiography, although it’s memorable mainly for how sordid it feels ... you don’t know whether to howl with laughter or outrage at the lack of self-awareness ... could very easily - and perhaps more accurately - have been titled Thoughts of Retaliation, with the primary target being a dead man. Whether it’s left Miller on the right side of things remains to be seen, but her future employers will at least have a more informed idea of what’s being said over the margaritas after work.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor... hugely enjoyable ... Sankovitch here does a skillful job of capturing the sometimes halting and contradictory progress of that transformation ... Some of the book’s portraits are more effective than others. For such vibrant individuals, John and Abigail Adams come off strangely muted in these pages, whereas Josiah Quincy, far less known to the general American reader of 2020, is drawn with knowing affection for his bookish ways ... It’s an appealing core cast of characters, although Revolution buffs might pine for the addition of one more name. Sankovitch mentions Samuel Adams often in the course of the book, but the centrality of his role in bringing things to a boil sometimes feels slighted in favor of the exploits of his more famous cousin...Even so, American Rebels succeeds marvelously in putting human faces on the American Revolution and showing readers how seismic events rippled outward from door-to-door intimacy.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... immensely readable ... Dunn has deeply researched (her endnotes and bibliography extend to over 60 pages, and most of the book’s translations from Greek and Latin are her own), and her book serves both as a fascinating dual biography and as a detailed look at the broader Roman world ... starts with the eruption of a famous volcano and then looks forward and backward in time with equal skill, bringing alive both the old Flavian world the elder Pliny navigated with such skill and the new world of Trajan that Pliny the Younger did more than anybody to preserve. Both those worlds – and their respective Plinys – get a vigorous new history here.
Leandra Ruth Zarnow
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor... a serious political biography, one that’s more narrative than the excellent 2007 volume from Suzanne Braun Levine and Mary Thom and likely appealing to a broader audience than Alan H. Levy’s groundbreaking 2013 book. Extensively researched (the end notes run almost 100 pages) and engagingly written, Battling Bella places Abzug firmly in the context of her time – the contentious politics of the 1970s – as well as positions her as a trailblazer whose brash style anticipated the personality-driven culture of the 21st century ... The sometimes seedy bare-knuckled politics of the time permeate the book, and much to her credit, Zarnow seldom pulls punches; Abzug is presented here with her failings as well as her triumphs ... Ultimately, this approach serves to elevate Abzug; with her big hats and her beaming smile and her short temper and her blunt honesty, she becomes in Zarnow’s handling an intensely admirable flesh-and-blood character. Her personal life is treated in less detail than her political struggles, but this is almost certainly what she herself would have wanted. And Zarnow’s focus on her subject’s central importance never wavers.
RaveOpen Letters Review...[a] slim, enchanting new book ... throughout, Brand’s enthusiasm for foxes is brightly infectious. She’s a keen appreciator of the wonder these animals carry around with them. \'Upon seeing a fox,; she rightly observes, \'many people are not sure what to say.\'
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorRussell’s book itself, with its influential and blueblood core cast, is both a reminder and echo of that very Edwardian state of affairs ... This can occasionally tempt Russell to some Edwardian excesses of his own, as when he mentions the \'diplomatic thrombosis of prewar Europe,\' or when he makes the bizarre claim about the Titanic that \'the iceberg that pierced her gave her an immortality that no other ship, no matter how large or luxurious, can ever hope to emulate.\' (Do other ships hope to emulate the Titanic? I’m guessing not.) ... The book’s main strength is Russell’s skill at examining his sources. He’s not Walter Lord, trooping from one survivor’s parlor to another; since he’s not mainly relying on eyewitnesses, he’s not obliged to believe them. As a result, his account feels quarrelsomely alive in a way most others don’t. And he has a way with a neat turn of phrase ... Because Russell has combed through a vast array of primary and secondary sources, he’s able to fill The Ship of Dreams with the kind of small, immediate details that make for consistently involving reading ... readers get the story of this particular floating Tower of Babel in riveting detail, and with all the wider context they could want.
PositiveOpen Letters Review[An] arresting debut ... Stuart does such a judicious job balancing her portrait between helpless bathos and a very fragile kind of motherly love that Agnes never loses her power to fascinate, despite having the alcoholic’s intense predictability ... Running alongside all this is the decidedly more muted story of our title character, who’s never allowed the sharp interiors of Agnes ... too often it leaves Shuggie a passive and one-dimensional figure in a book with his name as its title ... It’s to Stuart’s credit that he opts for a more nuanced third way, and it’s one of many things to his credit in this very strong debut. The story is filled with evocative prose and instantly memorable characters, and it gives readers a Glasgow as real as anything in their own life.
PositiveOpen Letters Review... arresting ... Stuart does such a judicious job balancing her portrait between helpless bathos and a very fragile kind of motherly love that Agnes never loses her power to fascinate, despite having the alcoholic’s intense predictability ... gorgeously harrowing descriptions of the Glasgow underworld of a generation ago ... Running alongside all this is the decidedly more muted story of our title character, who’s never allowed the sharp interiors of Agnes; even talented, deeply damaged Leek is far more intrinsically interesting. It’s as though Stuart assumes that merely making Shuggie gay in a Spartan and hateful environment tells readers as much as they’re likely to want to know about him, and given the wide acclaim accorded to some wire-thin gay novels in the last few years, this may be a good assumption. But it’s not particularly good storytelling, and too often it leaves Shuggie a passive and one-dimensional figure in a book with his name as its title ... This impression is strengthened by the author’s weakness for artificially heightened contrasts. It’s not just that the new Bain neighborhood is a damp, drafty, sooty hell of cheap worker’s homes, it’s that all the inhabitants are subhuman troglodytes, the women squinty-eyed and hostile, the children almost entirely feral, and the husbands ghosts out of Homer’s Hades, however beautifully described ... Little wonder, and precious little guessing as to how it will all work out: either violence or Hollywood marzipan. It’s to Stuart’s credit that he opts for a more nuanced third way, and it’s one of many things to his credit in this very strong debut. The story is filled with evocative prose and instantly memorable characters, and it gives readers a Glasgow as real as anything in their own life. There are even glimmers of hope, though very faint.
Vladimir Nabokov, Ed. by Brian Boyd and Anastasia Tolstoy
MixedThe Open Letters Review... a new and significantly less entertaining collection of Nabokov nonfiction ... a meticulously contextualized volume just brimming with supporting information ... indeed a work of considered scholarship - Nabokov scholarship, which will be of interest mainly to Nabokov scholars and fervent completists. The book assembles dozens of often very short interviews that weren’t included in Strong Opinions, plus speeches, the occasional indifferent book review, and a smattering of almost humorously pedantic letters to various long-suffering editors ... presents many decades and many layers of pomposity ... The pre-Lolita Nabokov, gaining teaching positions and learning how much spare spending money could be picked up doing commissioned work, isn’t much less insufferable ... it’ll no doubt have Nabokov fans nodding eagerly. Those fans will look on Think, Write, Speak as the treat of the book season, and they’re fortunate to have such a conscientiously-assembled volume.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor... distinguishes itself from the general pack through the ambition of its ideological scope ... Gallay’s book is a thorough and detailed interpretation of just what colonization meant in Elizabethan times ... Throughout his book, Gallay seeks to draw a wide line between conquest and colonization – sometimes a wider line than the facts support ... There’s quite a bit of that justifying happening in these pages ... Fortunately, the huge majority of Gallay’s narrative isn’t quite so freighted in his hero’s favor. Architect of Empire is mostly a detailed and spirited chronicle of one of history’s most colorful lives ... Gallay writes about this familiar story with a great deal of fresh energy and a thorough command of his sources. His version of Walter Ralegh is a refreshingly material creature, a climber and schemer very distinct from the romanticized gallant who too often appears in biographies. This is very much a Ralegh for the anti-colonial 21st century.
RaveOpen Letters Review...the perfect combination of narrative momentum and nerdish wonkery, has always animated Meyer’s Holmes pastiche fiction, and it’s on full display in the latest example ... Meyer knows exactly how to do this kind of pastiche, right down to the book’s chirpy footnotes ... The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols is superb Holmes pastiche fiction, even though the core subject matter in this case can’t help but end up being maddening. Trust this author to let that happen rather than step in to soften it artificially.
PositiveThe Open Letters ReviewReaders already familiar with Penzler’s style will know what to expect here: this huge book is a bonanza of finds, from the well-known to the gloriously idiosyncratic ... Penzler’s charming enthusiasm, as usual, sometimes gets the better of him ... A huge banquet like this rightly ought to be the place where the boring old truism \'the book is always better than the movie\' goes to die ... Fortunately, even when the comparisons are embarrassing, they’re fascinating. Penzler has once again created a great big volume perfect for beguiling a long, lazy afternoon, or a whole series of them.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorThese pages feature the great sea-going nations of the past, the globe-circling commercial empires built on fragile ships and enormous risks, and Abulafia includes a colorful cast of mostly well-known figures along with equally important figures who will probably be less familiar to some readers ... Due to the sheer immensity of Abulafia’s subject – human interactions over centuries on three vast watery arenas – none of these figures can stay for long ... that’s one of the problems with a volume as big and inviting as this. Even while you’re floating along on the generous glories of its narrative, you’re noticing little bits and pieces that are missing. Far more notable, even given the page count here, is the sheer amount of detail Abulafia actually manages to include. Readers get glimpses of thousands of worlds ... through it all, Abulafia keeps one eye on the broader aspects of his subject, both the growing interconnectedness of his three separate water-worlds but also on the larger conceptions of what the oceans mean as spheres of human endeavor ... largely steers clear of those 21st-century questions, and it likewise doesn’t consider the rampant, worldwide damage humans are doing to these oceans.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...a bolt of pure reading delight that outdoes even Holt’s utterly winning earlier book Rise of the Rocket Girls. ... It concentrates on five...women: Grace Huntington, Bianca Majolie, Retta Scott, Sylvia Holland, and especially Mary Blair, and through their stories, invaluably researched and assembled here, our author gives readers a look at the women who gave shape to so many of their childhood memories ... In a beautifully sculpted narrative of hurtlingly fast pace, Holt tells the stories of these women and their female colleagues ... In a very real sense, many of the struggles of the Queens of Animation were also Disney’s struggles, and Holt draws readers deep into the fascinating specifics of those struggles ... The fight goes on...but in The Queens of Animation, Nathalia Holt has told the story of indispensable trailblazers. It’s gripping, galvanizing reading.
RaveOpen Letters Review... a glowingly egalitarian tale despite seeming to have one standout star ... Through extensive research and in leanly eloquent prose, Moulton brings this grand, snarky, fiercely intelligent old group alive on the page, drawn together as much by their shared passions as by their shared obstacles ... glows with life, even though Moulton is always unblinkingly clear about the limitations these women faced ... a wonderful, inviting work of scholarship and a reconstruction long overdue - and of course a must-read for DLS’s legion of fans.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewIn Something Deeply Hidden, the equation Schrödinger developed...rules the discussion (the book helpfully provides a stripped-down layman’s version of this equation, which will thoroughly baffle most of those laymen) ... Carroll’s book is so comprehensive, and he’s such a fantastic teacher ... As a smart and intensely readable undergraduate class in the history of quantum theory and the nature of quantum mechanics, Something Deeply Hidden could scarcely be improved. Carroll has a natural teacher’s knack for democratizing the conversation without sacrificing his own authority. I don’t believe for one femtosecond that possibility is the same thing as actuality; I don’t believe in ghost worlds and don’t think there’s a single word in Carroll’s book that should make anybody else believe in them ... [but] it sure is fun to imagine.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewTaylor [is] a terrific writer ... thought-provoking ... One of the strongest impressions to come out of Taylor’s book is the sheer vicious loutishness of the planters’ sons who were the university’s earliest students ... Taylor tells this university story with cool skill and a very discerning eye for personal detail. The standard national hagiography surrounding Jefferson won’t be much troubled by the inept fantasist who comes across in these pages, but readers will be fascinated to make the acquaintance of men like Rice and Cocke in Taylor’s gripping and judicious portraits.
RaveThe Open Letters Review... fiercely detailed ... A cast of thousands troops through these antic pages, filling out both the professional side of Freud’s life, a steady rise in renown for long stretches stubbornly unaccompanied by a commensurate rise in income, and the personal side, filled with women who were often simultaneously attracted and repulsed by the artist ... Nobody alive today is in a better position to write an enormous, definitive biography of this artist. Feaver talked with Freud ind-depth on a wide range of topics for decades, he’s infinitely knowledgeable about Freud’s life and associates, and, as his frequent digressions demonstrate, he’s a richly rewarding thinker on Freud’s art ... Because of Feaver’s intimate connection with Freud, the book is positively suffused with the artist’s voice, commenting wryly on everything, all the time. This makes for singularly absorbing reading regardless of what any reader might personally make of Freud’s art itself.
MixedThe Christian Science Monitor... what it lacks in length it makes up in scrappy contentiousness ... In the rarefied world of Nazi scholarship, an author claiming that Hitler didn’t seek world domination qualifies as incendiary, and Simms comes back repeatedly to that aspect of his narrative ... More than a few readers...will respond with a quick \'Says who?\' Simms is clearly expecting to raise some hackles ... It’s unlikely that many readers will soldier through [Simms\' book], but unfortunately, the times may warrant it.
PanThe Open Letters ReviewThe book is gummy with schmaltz, but at least Campbell spares readers the yards and yards of autobiography he must know doesn’t interest them. Instead, he gets quickly down to business ... Of more pointed interest to most readers of Crossfire Hurricane will be the cleanliness of Campbell’s own hands in other matters ... Campbell opts instead for portraying the FBI Director as some kind of helpless jellyfish pulled along by the currents. \'Boxed in\' is absurd; Comey could have followed longstanding Bureau policy and simply kept his mouth shut ... These kinds of frustrations are endemic in reading what for better or worse we must call Trump books: even the ones that exude some degree of good intentions also exude complicity in the sordid tenor of the times. All these budding authors are running games of their own; all are picking and choosing their words with telling forensic care; all are looking for maximum payoff with minimum legal exposure. It’ll reach its pinnacle when somebody writes Trump’s own account of it all, but it’s plenty bad enough right now.
PositiveThe Open Letters Review... a genuinely thought-provoking broad-range inquiry into the strange, elastic period between youth and adulthood, when crucial mistakes are made and crucial learning happens ... One of the many joys of Wildhood is its biological ecumenism; time and again the authors tacitly remind their readers that personal individuality - for two millennia guarded as a strictly human quality - is actually rife throughout the animal world ... a thoroughly engaging study of the in-between years and the strands of commonality that run through the awkward adolescences of so many species. The book will teach you things about the torments and ecstasies you endured during your own in-between years, and it may incline you to look more kindly on the desperate, low-status blunderings of the teenagers who occasionally show up in your own home and on your own tax forms.
MixedThe Open Letters ReviewBut as many snide kudos as Poniewozik might warrant for comparing Trump with a giant, fat-headed, brainless scavenger with tiny hands, there’s an odd but noticeable tremor of disconnect running through his book, and it often centers, ironically enough, around television. The author’s central contention seems to be simple: that Trump is a creature of TV and is best understood in TV terms. But this contention only works if the reader feels that Poniewozik himself understands TV, and too often his interpretations of common TV touchstones seem decidedly off, almost enabling ... Poniewozik’s deepest condemnation of Trump seems to be that he makes for bad TV ... These are, at least on some frustratingly over-simplified level, good questions, and they deserve better than the ratings-friendly all-timezones answers Poniewozik tends to give them.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorReaders of A Problem from Hell will recognize Power’s lean, evocative prose line ... As a portrait of President Obama, Power’s book immediately ranks right alongside that of her administration colleague Ben Rhodes, The World as It Is ... Power is every bit as candid when the recollections tell against her; she shares some brutal moments when she and Obama disagreed, moments made all the sharper by Power’s willingness to allow readers to see her as not just a frustrated idealist but a sometimes dangerously naive one ... doesn’t read like a standard Beltway exercise in self-justification. It’s too roughly honest for that, and, alarmingly, there are patches all throughout where the author’s naivete still lies fresh on the ground ... It’s this bluntness of assessment that makes the book’s broader points on power and purpose feel disappointingly anodyne.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorNo future biographical study of this author, and we can hope that there will be many, will be able to progress without the foundation provided here ... Moser...tells a good story ... Moser tends to strike an effective balance between the kind of immersive detail Sontag specialists will eagerly expect and the kind of broader narrative momentum that ordinary readers will appreciate (and that might turn a few of them into Sontag specialists, always a pleasant side effect). For all that she might have privately wanted a hagiography, Sontag would almost certainly have publicly excoriated one, and Moser stops just short of the line ... With depressing inevitability, Moser concludes, \'What mattered about Susan Sontag was what she symbolized.\' Thankfully, he’s much closer to the mark when he points out that Sontag \'set the terms of the cultural debate in a way that no intellectual had done before, or has done since.\'
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorIn chapters of sparkling prose and sympathetic insight, Ronald traces Nast’s life from his birth in New York in 1873 (and his life-long reaction against the wastrel ways of his profligate father) to his early start in the magazine world ... Ronald’s colorful prose style perfectly matches the heyday of the early 20th-century magazine boom. Readers are brought inside ... It’s this assured ability to capture the dissonant and at times contradictory aspects of Nast’s nature that sets Ronald’s book apart and makes it such fascinating reading ... In these pages, the staid, reserved mastermind behind Vogue and Vanity Fair comes across as an unlikely Pied Piper figure, giving the smart set a monthly blueprint for their ambitions.
PanThe Open Letters ReviewPerhaps it’s redundant to observe that a book so heavily redolent of Stephen King novels would be full of thin characters and starkly improbable behaviors, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower was so sure-handed on both those specific fronts that moments like this one, which crop up all through Imaginary Friend, feel as galling as they are disappointing. If this second novel really is going to feel like it was written by an entirely different author, readers would just naturally hope it’s a more talented author...Instead, the prose keeps getting in the way ... Christopher’s adventures with his new friends devolve immediately into re-heated moments from It or Stand By Me ... reads at almost every point like a bloated screenplay, lounging by its pool saying \'Just green-light me, babies, and I’ll shed these extra pounds quick as lookin’ at you.\' The fixed verdict awaiting all cult classic authors might be cruel, but in this case it’s also nothing but the truth: this is sure no Perks of Being a Wallflower.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorEveritt’s is the latest and one of the most engaging [biographers of Alexander] ... the immediacy of the storytelling, gives Everitt’s account its infectious sense of narrative momentum. Alexander the Great won’t unseat the scholarship of magnificent Alexander biographies like those by Robin Lane Fox or Peter Green. But its energy is unflagging, including the verve with which it tackles that teased final mystery about the specific cause of Alexander’s death. Even readers well-versed in Alexander’s story will be fascinated all over again.
MixedThe Open Letters Review... written in an engaging style that is by turns inviting and slightly irksome. The well-worn tactic of American feature-writing, the inclusion of copious narrative and ‘atmospheric’ details about the author’s legging around researching the book, occasionally rings a little tinny here, given the book’s subject matter; the cranky state of a rental car’s air conditioning seems like a bit of distraction laid alongside the threat of thermonuclear annihilation. And the book’s many stretches of evocative prose can sometimes start to slip out of our author’s grasp ... Walsh consults with the wisest, most experienced people in the various fields of study touched by his worst-case scenarios, and as such experts have been doing since the dawn of modern science, they spend a good deal of effort at the tricky task of simultaneously describing and downplaying the magnitude of their respective monster threats...This is the nature of disaster-books like this one; like any cheesy horror movie, they seek to alarm and assure at the same time.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewAnybody who’s ever read James Patterson will know what to expect from this kind of thriller; Derek Milman serves up the same action and breathless pacing; the difference is mostly the ten or fifteen years shaved off the protagonist (and so-energetic plying of the sunny side of the street, dating-wise), but the dirt-dumb stupidity of that protagonist stands firmly in place ... Aidan’s adventures in Milman’s handling are infectiously page-turning, despite being laughably silly ... And right from the start, characters are introduced in the stacked cliches of screenplays rather than the texture of prose ... The whole business doesn’t read much like a Young Adult novel, it must be admitted. Aidan is an adorable, bumbly teenager, yes...but virtually none of his quips or actions are in any way believable...for 17 or any other age. But then, readers - even YA readers - don’t come to books like Swipe Right for Murder for the believability. They come for the killer title, they stay for the killer roller coasters, and with any luck, they leave happy and come back for the next book.
RaveThe Open Letters Review... stunning ... [Urbina] crafts very human portraits of all these people and the lawless world they inhabit. He also pauses regularly to step back and appreciate the staggering physical beauty of that world ... \'Impunity is the norm at sea\' Urbina writes, and The Outlaw Ocean is the fullest and most lifelike snapshot of that impunity’s variations that the young new century has seen. The enormous and renegade world Urbina describes is one Captain Forbes would have recognized immediately back in the 1820s.
Edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewThere is indeed a banquet in these pages, with selections ranging broadly across time and languages: a dozen works-in-translation jostle next to instantly recognizable names like Jules Verne, E. M. Forster, and Mary Shelley. Our editors have made efforts, slightly strained efforts, to provide a hyper-inclusive Table of Contents; there are names here that even die-hard fantasy fans will find odd or rare, and there are other inclusions that seem designed to be unpredictable ... The Big Book of Classic Fantasy isn’t perfect, of course; the VanderMeers push the advent of \'classic\' back too far in time to keep many of the distinctions of \'fantasy\' usefully defined. But even this slightly amorphous scheme has payoffs, since it leads to a series of surprising reading combinations.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... massive and enjoyable ... White presents a vivid, personality-driven chronicle of books going to war – and of writers finding themselves either caught up in the gears of international spycraft or acting as spies themselves ... In these pages, readers will encounter the writing of familiar figures, but in a completely different context ... serves up these stories with an unfailing dramatic flair, which makes for irresistible reading. In the battle over ideas, the pen is truly mightier than the sword.
RaveThe Open Letters Review... finely balances these personalities, their adventures, and even their ultimate fates. Through four main figures, Waller explores a great breadth of beehive activity in the Eastern Theater, giving readers an at times intensely cinematic look at how spycraft was conducted when newspapers ran every speculation that came their way, families were divided in their loyalties, and the fates of entire battles could turn on a single careless sentence. The four are perfectly chosen ... A broader, more comprehensive look at espionage during the war would have lost the fascination of the personal, and a closer focus on, say Van Lew or even Pinkerton would have lost the scope of the professional. Instead of either misstep, Waller gives readers a well-grounded tale of heroes and antiheroes - first-rate Civil War reading.
Linda S. Godfrey
PositiveOpen Letters Review...a passionate and immensely readable breviary of the unknown ... the book is absolutely brimming with human eyes seeing all kinds of things: biped dogs with glowing eyes, \'phantom quadrupeds,\' \'dire dogs,\' \'witchy wolves,\' ghost cats, deer-human hybrids, good old-fashioned werewolves, and a dozen other strange apparitions flash across these pages in a blur—and of course with not one scrap of actual, clear evidence. That’s the besetting weakness of books like this: the leap of faith at the heart of their claims ... It’s hugely entertaining to go along with Godfrey while she interviews so many of the people who say they saw these creatures. Godfrey is a skilled listener and a wonderfully assured storyteller, a very natural combination of sympathy and common sense even when she’s dealing with fairly obvious charlatans ... In one sense, the narratives are the point of an enterprise like this: as a scientific collection of anecdotal evidence, the book is very nearly useless, but as a collection of campfire tales, it would be tough to imagine anything more effective. Take it along the next time you go camping and scare yourself catatonic once the sun goes down.
PositiveOpen Letters Review... smart and very readable detail ... Clayton boils the details of this complex picture into a story of big personalities and even bigger priorities, and it’s his own cri de coeur about those priorities that rings in the reader’s ear as the book concludes ... Where do you look for meaning? Anyone who’s ever been stunned into silence by the views of Lake McDonald’s Glacier National Park (not to mention its bristling array of wildlife) will be familiar with the meaning such sights can impart.
Phillips Payson O'Brien
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorLeahy kept a meticulous diary and also wrote an invaluable memoir (with the typically gruff title I Was There), and now, thanks to historian Phillips Payson O’Brien, he at last has the first-rate biography he’s always deserved ... When President William Howard Taft remarked of the young naval aide who accompanied him during a West Coast inspection, \'He’ll ascend to great heights,\' he could not have guessed just how far this most famous son of Hampton, Iowa would climb, and O’Brien recounts that astounding career in fascinating detail.
Robert L. O'Connell
MixedOpen Letters ReviewLike chronicles of Washington’s military career, Revolutionary is a long account of things not breaking Washington’s way. For 300 pages, readers follow \'GW\' from bungle to blunder, from overreach to incomprehension, with our hero either failing upward through no merit of his own or saved by his staff from charging into catastrophe. And at every turn, O’Connell is on hand to smooth things over and put their good profile toward the sunniest window ... O’Connell is so persuasive that readers will have to squint a little to remember that this is a description of a United States President leading thousands of armed and mounted soldiers in person against American citizens ... When O’Connell isn’t engaged in this kind of public relations, when he’s writing about Washington’s world instead of Washington’s military record, his book is brightly energetic, although often curiously refracted ... Ultimately Revolutionary presents an insightful overview of the birth of the United States right alongside the usual starry-eyed heroic poem about Washington himself. Readers will need to assess the balance between the two for themselves, but those readers are unlikely to get a better Washington book this year.
PositiveThe Open Letters Review... stirring and colorful ... King’s book bristles with the warts-and-all personalities of these pioneers, and the whole narrative is built on that quest to gather up traditions and lore and refine the understanding of it all in the same broader context of the anthropologists’ own world ... a terrifically readable chronicle of a hobby’s rebirth as a science. It’s a needed reminder that cultures consist of people, rather than the reverse.
Monica L. Smith
PositiveChristian Science Monitor...[a] lively book ... In patient and smoothly readable chapters combining anthropology, archeology, and wonkish earnestness, Smith takes readers on a tour of how cities became the sweet spots of human habitation, tracing the organics of why cities are born, why they flourish, and why they fail.
Steven M. Gillon
RaveThe Open Letters Review[Gillon] succeeds to a degree no other biographer has done or is likely to do ... The real accomplishment of America’s Reluctant Prince is the extent to which it rises above the usual froth of wealth and scandal. Gillon does this in large part by focusing on substance instead of scandal ... Gillon gives his readers a more serious JFK Jr than any version of the man they’ve encountered before. It’s a seriousness that at best appears in shards and glimpses ... The color and flash of John Kennedy Jr’s life is here in these pages, of course - the flash was there, and publishing is a business, after all - but there’s also the strongest sketch yet assembled of what might have been.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewHoward Norman’s new novel The Ghost Clause is a ghost story, a crime drama, an academic story, a marital study, and a portrait of small-town life, and yet it’s as compact and almost quiet a thing as all the author’s other novels, as effective a combination of powerful human understanding and four-square storytelling as, for instance, The Northern Lights or The Bird Artist ... The novel has some fine, nuanced examinations of married life, although one of Pell’s choices at the end of the book will strike pretty much any grieving person as flat-out unbelievable. The Ghost Clause is smart and no-nonsense; it’s not fussy, and it sets about telling its multiple stories with a clean workmanship that feels both old-fashioned and a bit revolutionary. We come to care about its half-dozen main characters, flaws and all, and the passage of time in the book feels natural. The familiar claim that all old Vermont houses are haunted a moving and very real-world memorial here.
PositiveOpen Letters Review[Smith\'s] proposing—passionately, eloquently—that humans start eating seaweed ... The message underlying most of Eat Like a Fish couldn’t be clearer, although Smith is neither a browbeating author nor a repetitive one: the kind of food-trawling Smith used to do isn’t sustainable, was never sustainable, is ruinous. There are alternatives, and they’re in operation now, and ocean farming is one of them. And really, doesn’t a big colorful seaweed salad sound more inviting than some freeze-dried scorpions on a bed of soy?
RaveOpen Letters Review[Scenes are] crafted with vivid skill throughout the book, including many scattered throughout the book’s footnotes ... Despite the towering creature at its heart, the genius of In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond is most often its human pathos. Some of that pathos is served up in candy colors that aren’t strictly believable...but even so, it’s the plain old humans who provide some of the book’s most memorable moments ... it speaks to the odd, winning gravitas that runs through In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond. The shelf of serious, beautifully done Bigfoot books isn’t exactly a crowded one, but it now has an indisputable classic.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewDavis makes some excellent ancillary choices ... The baseline reality of all books like The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes is both sobering and challenging: there are no real rivals of Sherlock Holmes. The closest approximations, an egotistical Belgian sleuth and a little old lady with a mind like a bacon slicer, are comfortably distant second-placers, and the various problem-solvers Davis assembles here don’t even come close. But they make for all the more intriguing reading because of that, and the picks here are good. The biting little irony of the book is that finishing it will create a near-irresistible urge to read a Holmes story, or more than one, but such an indulgence can only be improved by a bit more context.
John Paul Stevens
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... remarkably candid and heartening ... puckish, mildly subversive humor runs throughout the book, which is a calm and sagacious volume rendered somewhat somber by the news of his passing ... Justice Stevens recounts the major cases of his long career with an even-handed clarity ... Justice Stevens was widely known for a rare combination of shrewdness and genuine kindness, and that same combination fills his book. As the narrative progresses, readers see a deep thinker who was steadily reexamining his own beliefs; Justice Stevens clearly saw the \'making\' in his book’s title as a lifelong process.
Jonathan M. Hansen
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorIn many ways, the most memorable impression is of a serious, passionate, constantly evolving man; even in his formative years, Hansen’s Castro is an impressive combination of revolutionary zeal and common-folk compassion ... Likewise Hansen gives his readers a global thinker, someone who realized, from early in the consolidation of power on his tiny island, that he would need to step warily onto the world stage ... in addition to being exhaustively thorough and gripping, Young Castro is also remorselessly sympathetic ... Nowhere in Hansen’s pages is the impulsive, autocratic oaf seen by many of Castro’s critics. The serial womanizer is largely absent from these pages as well. Young Castro gives no hint of the dictator who would run his country into the ground and make it a pariah state. Here we get the newly minted revolutionary, with the future unwritten before him.
Michael J. Benton
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorAssumption-shifting moments...fill the pages of Dinosaurs Rediscovered. Benton writes movingly about having seen during his own career the birth of a revolution in technologies like chemical analysis, CT scanning, and digital imaging, all adding new dimensions to field techniques ... The book conveys a sense of an entire discipline in a state of giddy upheaval ... In sharp and engaging prose, Dinosaurs Rediscovered covers the history of dinosaur research and the nuts and bolts of how researchers know the things they know ... The final impression of Dinosaurs Rediscovered is one of infectious excitement ... This book is an engrossing and beautifully designed result of that lifelong passion. It belongs on the shelf of every adult collector of dinosaur books.
PositiveThe Open Letters Review\"This procession of erotically charged encounters is fascinating to read, but it admits of no change, no development. Nishino never shares anything of his inner self with any of the women he encounters, and readers following along through each of those encounters will quickly begin to suspect this is because he has no inner self to share. This would be interesting on a plotting level if all the women he meets were shallow and undiscriminating, but not all of them are: some, we get the strong impression, would see through this romantic grifter in two seconds, and indeed, some do - but it doesn’t stop them from breaking bread with him. If the book is intended as a commentary on the bleak nature of modern romance culture, it’s as insightful as it is depressing ... Powell is an experienced translator from the Japanese, so we can assume that the flat, affectless artlessness on every page of the book is the author’s decision rather than the translator’s failure, an assumption bolstered by the curiously monochrome tone of so much translated contemporary Japanese literature, regardless of who’s doing the translating. Whatever its origin, the drab prose throws extra emphasis on the plot, and as one of Nishino’s women mentions, \'The trouble with wanting all of a boy like Nishino was that it was predictable.\'
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorHamilton’s account of FDR getting through the historic Yalta conference on nothing more than naked determination makes for moving reading, but certainly our author is right to maintain that the pathos of that final decline...can pull attention away from the larger picture. Hamilton himself, drawing on an impressive array of primary and secondary sources, has successfully broadened the picture. This is not another \'final days\' account of FDR; rather, it’s a far [more] impressive tale of a long final battle.
PositiveThe Open Letters Review... completely engrossing ... This biographical approach requires an extra measure of patience on the part of Anand’s readers, but as with her winning 2015 book Sofia, that patience is amply rewarded; the pairing of Dyer’s life and Udham Singh’s serves to create a more personal and immediate portrait of an India boiling with tension and delusion. As with Sofia, so too here: the drama of a nation is skillfully refracted in the details of individual lives.
MixedOpen Letters Review... [an] immense new novel ... gives Stephenson the perfect platform to explore the intersection of technology and humanity, and he fills that platform over every inch, piles it to the ceiling, loads it down, positively buries it, crushes it under sheer verbiage. Stephenson’s novels are all whopping tomes in the thousand-page range. None of them, including this latest, even remotely needs to be so long ... The most maddening element of this grotesque self-indulgence on Stephenson’s part (and the even more grotesque watery permissiveness of his editor) is that he’s a thoroughly engaging writer; his books are stuffed to their attics with blather, but the blather is uniformly interesting ... The prose is all so clear and intelligent that it almost feels rude to point out how tautological 90% of it is ... although Fall is a fascinating fictional exploration of what post-Singularity consciousness might be like, it’s also a 400-page novel lumbering around in an ungainly Hollywood-style foam fat suit.
MixedOpen Letters ReviewMarlantes writes smoothly readable prose and has a solid skill at developing characters over time ... Marlantes captures the feel of that immigrant enclave with sensitivity, and he’s lavish with technical and period detail: readers will quickly find themselves submerged in the nuances of expat Finnish culture and the dangers of big-timber logging ... The narrative follows Aino with a leaden focus that readers might well come to dread ... the novel’s penchant for exposition is unchecked ... Deep River is impressively ambitious, but...[d]espite its author’s attempts at building a cast and a world, this is very much the novel of a single character. How interesting or sympathetic readers find Aino will in large part determine whether or not they plow on through to the end of the book. Since she’s unchangingly and uncompromisingly herself from the moment we meet her, on Page 6, curling up with the Communist Manifesto, those readers will know soon enough who deep they’re willing to go.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe season’s best comprehensive one-volume history of Operation Overlord ... Caddick-Adams makes the wise and unusual decision to give the familiar D-Day story far more historical grounding, reminding readers that what ended up succeeding in June of 1944 required an enormous amount of training.
MixedOpen Letters ReviewReaders are taunted a couple of times with the vision of a novel about colonizing Mars, but what they get instead is a big, boisterous book about mining an asteroid in order to shore up banking collateral. The mission is intensely predictable; Tighe himself an action-hero mannikin; the Act Three surprise isn’t actually surprising; and there are stretches of operational chatter ... very little in Delta-v should work. But Suarez is an old and practiced hand at creating silk purses out of sow cave divers. Delta-v never falters because it never doubts its own storytelling virtue; it’s a purely silly and purely effective thriller, exactly the kind of plot-driven potboiler that would once have been put before the reading public in a $3 paperback with an eye-catching cover.
Luke Fernandez and Susan J. Matt
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewThis is a thoughtfully nuanced take on the kind of ‘is technology killing us dead’ alarmist tracts that have proliferated as ‘smart’ devices have proliferated, an effect largely achieved by grounding the whole question deeper in history. The social reactions to the telegraph, the home radio, the television, and, crucially, a country-crossing modern highway system, all interestingly foreground many of the modern reactions to further inroads made into our private lives by technology on every side ... Fernandez and Matt have created a fascinating picture of the historical development of what they refer to as new emotional patterns that traverse \'from our right to unfettered anger and unconstrained self-promotion to our awe at our own transcendence\' ... a fairly optimistic spin on a generational transformation that touches the lives of virtually every human being on Earth.
PanOpen Letters ReviewDiamond’s legion of fans will already be disposed to endorse this level of solipsism. Newcomers to his customary methods might ask some fairly simple questions. Can personal crisis indicators be in any useful way to study the upheavals of nations? Can 30 pages be enough to do more than skim the surface of any of these epic events? Does the random fact of living in a country—far removed from the deliberations of its government or military—impart any extra sympathy or knowledge? And if the answer to each of those questions is a weary, exasperated ‘no,’ the further question, \'Can Upheaval have anything to offer?\' will likewise suggest itself.
RaveThe Open Letters Review... readers who’ve eagerly absorbed every word this author has ever written will be no better prepared for the brutal beauties of This Storm than complete newcomers. There is no preparation; you can start right here ... The book is a weird combination of hard edges and lyrical telegraph messages ... with the exception of Dennis Cooper, Ellroy may be the most idiosyncratic American author working today, the kind of writer who makes gestures like that todos and who keeps the bigoted slang of the period firmly untranslated in the speech of his loutish characters. Whole sections of This Storm read like studied assaults on the safe space trigger-fingered censorship culture of 21st century America; the racist slang is everywhere, the violence is gory and offhand; the sexism isn’t always entirely attributable solely to the characters ... In a typical summer slough of hammock fiction and cookbooks, This Storm sits like a brick on the parlor floor. It’s totally, barbarously engrossing, as bluntly sure of itself as a rockfall or a snapping turtle. It’s that rarest of things in any book season: imperative reading.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewHans-Peter Schneider is every bit as silly and memorable as Hannibal Lecter ... right alongside the confectionary color of his villains, Harris is very much still a skilled and artfully restrained writer. Cari Mora is among other things a first-rate Florida thriller, reminiscent of the best of Randy Wayne White and James Hall, full of the weather and nature of Miami and the Keys (including a chapter told from a crocodile’s point of view), much of it described in clean, minimalist brush-strokes ... the first note sounded after a long silence, the first book to follow a phenomenon, and a conscious attempt to shed that phenomenon. No novel should have to shoulder such burdens, but Cari Mora, like its namesake, goes about its work without any fuss.
MixedOpen Letters ReviewA worry that the general-interest reader might find a nearly thousand-page life of an academic historian a bit of a crawl is not unfounded. Two things save this book from falling entirely into this kind of purgatory. The first is that, as mentioned, Evans is a smart, smooth writer. The second is that Hobsbawm led a more interesting life than most historians ... The book is uneven ... The portrait of Hobsbawm that results from all these pages of effort and detail is almost certainly lifelike, and although that’s of real value to future biographers, it’ll provide some challenges for normal civilian readers who might want a more generally likable subject ... The book has a pervasive feeling of a long-standing debt being paid, and a private conversation being brought to a close.
RaveThe Open Letters ReviewThe story never loses its power to amaze ... naturally a triumph, the first salvo in what promises to be the definitive history of the American Revolution. It’s scrupulously researched and warmly, endlessly readable, a book to hand both to Revolution aficionados and newcomers to the subject. It has no pre-ordained heroes or villains, but it teems with memorably three-dimensional characters. Even so crowded a field as Revolution studies must now make room.
MixedOpen Letters ReviewThe story of Little Dog’s mother and grandmother occupies the first half of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is competently done, and has no connection whatsoever to the book’s second half, in which Little Dog falls in love with a boy named Trevor ... the two are quickly assaying each other in passages that shuttle between purple and beautiful like the pendulum of a metronome ... The drift of aimless yearning and pointed ecstasy in this story is beautifully done. Vuong steadily and subtly darkens the atmosphere between the two boys, so that even non-coital moments carry a charge of both poetry and pathos ... Had Vuong expanded his Trevor plot to full-book length and perhaps done a better job of grafting his mother’s story onto it, instead of simply plopping them down next to each other like condiment jars on a table, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous might have been that most elusive beast, a modern classic of gay fiction. As it is, when Little Dog tells his unlistening mother \'You asked me what it was like to be a writer and I’m giving you a mess,\' readers might agree a bit too enthusiastically.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewTurner is a smooth, engaging writer and an exhaustive one. She obviously cares about keeping her readers interested (and she herself seems raptly interested throughout), but she’s likewise unwilling to skirt, condense, or over-simplify, and she has an enormous story to tell ... Turner follows every detail of every one of these lives, reads them all with unfailing complexity, and even manages to be a good though sometimes tone-deaf guide to the poetry itself ... through it all, she’s alive to the same quality of mutability that so fascinated the poet himself ... for readers who already have a familiarity with Chaucer’s life and times, this meaty new biography is likely to be the best book on the subject for decades to come.
RaveThe Open Letters Review... every bit as bluff, garrulous, and unconventional as its subject ... Holbrooke, needless to say, would have loved this kind of writing about Holbrooke ... The wistfulness is loud and clear, here and everywhere in Our Man, perfectly reflecting the ‘ah for the good old days’ late-night attitude of the man himself and constantly dramatized in anecdotes that subtly (or not) vilify just the kind of squeaky-new backstabbing teachers’ pets who privately infuriated Holbrooke whenever he let himself think about subjects so small. Packer is extremely, almost alarmingly good at putting such moments before his readers ... the portrait Packer has crafted of him is a bizarrely hypnotic thing, equal parts cynicism and hero-worship, always managing to be both vastly friendly to its subject and brutally assessing ... captures the man as no book is ever likely to do again; this is an accomplishment and also a precaution.
PositiveThe Open Letters Review... unfailingly fascinating reading, despite its appalling subject matter. The author dramatizes epidemics like Ebola or Zika and draws vivid portraits of many of the people at the front lines of those epidemics, and the emphasis is always on the tension, the race between knowing enough and doing enough ... shows very similar patterns recurring again and again whenever a new pandemic has threatened in the last century, and its implicit advice ought to be heeded. The flashes of potential disasters, outbreaks that catch a brief round of headlines and then fade from the collective attention span, flicker like warning lights throughout Honigsbaum’s book. Readers frightened half out of their wits by what they’ve read will be universally hoping the right people are heeding those warnings.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorInevitably, Kells’ book is about the Shakespeare authorship controversy. This is well-covered ground, naturally, and Kells addresses some of it in this new book, focusing in particular on Elizabethan courtier and diplomat Henry Neville as a likely alternate candidate. Kells gamely investigates the case for and against Neville and a handful of other possible authors of the Shakespeare canon. The main body of the book is every bit as invigorating as The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders ... The subtitle of Kells’ book is Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature. The book itself is wonderful reading, but that mystery remains firmly locked away.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewAbe’s sympathetic understanding of Ingram’s complex and oddly gentle nature is the consistent strength of The Sakura Obsession, and it makes the book one of the most charming, offbeat biographies to appear in years. And Abe convincingly broadens Ingram’s lifelong obsession (he lived for a century) to include many of the modern concerns for which he was a forerunner ... The Sakura Obsession tells in enchanting detail one of the most interesting background stories most springtime cherry blossom admirers don’t know when they’re admiring the evanescent beauties in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere.
PanOpen Letters ReviewWeirdly, [Shapiro\'s] Golden Age is some gauzy hybrid of something he calls \'Judeo-Christian values\' and something he calls \'Greek teleology.\' They’re conveniently shorthanded throughout the book as \'Jerusalem\' and \'Athens.\' The idea he lays out in the book’s earnest, leaden prose is that Western society has lost its sense of purpose, and that it can regain this sense of purpose by restoring its embrace of Judeo-Christian values and Greek rationality … what Shapiro yearns to do above all things: retroactively cancel the Enlightenment. Glowing fitfully through the fog of his book’s windy pronouncements and half-digested undergrad history nuggets is Shapiro’s dead-set conviction that the Enlightenment, with its spirit of scientific inquiry, its prizing of repeatable, testable observations, and its groping toward intellectual freedom, is right where humanity’s train went off its tracks ... This abhorrence runs through almost every page of The Right Side of History. In it, Shapiro pines for the good old days when the worship of a God was the primary act of society and the primary definition of its white, male, married householders.
Nancy Isenberg and Andrew Burstein
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor... historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg...[are] the perfect team ... The Problem of Democracy shows father and son exuberantly punching and pivoting in the roiling politics of their day ... Isenberg and Burstein are frank about the shortcomings of their subjects, who often engaged in the same sins for temporary political ends ... There are no myths in The Problem with Democracy, which instead asks its readers probing questions about our political origin story and demands serious answers.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewIf...narcissism, pettiness, and lying gets your blood boiling, reading Commander in [Cheat] will have you fuming from start to finish ... Many, many writers have opined over the decades about how allegedly revealing a golf course is for a man’s true character. Those writers have all been golfers, and golfers are invariably the source of this man’s-true-character codswallop, but Reilly has a shrewd eye and, the reader quickly senses, a remarkably clear memory. And he’s certain this silly little sport is crucial to his subject ... In scenario after scenario related by Reilly, Trump’s cheating and lying is compulsive, ridiculously operatic, and of course completely undocumented ... Golf or no golf, no other U.S. President has ever been a delusional psychopath. Golf or no golf, that’s what \'explains\' Trump—which makes all the book’s stories about people having fun while he lies to them fairly chilling.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewParini’s book is less a historical novel in which a man believes he’s had a vision and more a historically-based fantasy novel in which a man actually does have conversations with a god ... The glimmers of hard, gemlike sardonic humor that flicker through Parini’s earlier historical novels are not entirely absent in The Damascus Road, although this latest book is clearly afraid of this tendency ... for the most part, The Damascus Road is a squarely straightlaced affair, a prosier elaboration of the Epistles, an Act Two of the Apostles. Parini’s atmosphere-creating talents are in full power in these pages; his Paul is wonderfully situated in the dusty streets and stuffy synagogues of the first century Roman Judea. The extent to which such verisimilitude is wobbled by the book’s main character talking to a god will be for each reader to decide, but the book surrounding that moment is as impressive as anything Parini has ever written.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... the best of the Apollo 11 books to appear so far this year but also, surprisingly and pleasingly, the best biography of Kennedy published in years. Here as in all his books, Brinkley is a generous, beguiling writer; he takes readers on a longer narrative of Kennedy’s life in order to show them the man behind the moonshot – and attempt to plumb his motives.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewAt some point during the gestation of this Simon Riske series, Reich made the all-important decision to set the whole business in Cloud-Cuckoo Land rather than in the real world. This same decision has worked extremely well in the past for authors such as Ted Bell, Clive Cussler, and Jack Higgins, and it works extremely well here. The point in Crown Jewel isn’t the absurdity of the Duke of Suffolk asking an unqualified stranger to fly to Monaco (all expenses paid, of course) and stop a multimillion-dollar casino theft, no; the point is that the stranger is Simon Riske, hero extraordinaire ... akes its readers on many hairpin turn at breakneck speed, but in the end, things really are as simple as that. Readers of this kind of book expect nothing less, but the honest truth is that a great many of the current crop of such books don’t always manage to deliver even on their own very simplified terms. These first two Simon Riske novels deliver. Here’s to many more.
Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett
MixedOpen Letters Review\"Anyone who’s ever gone down a Christopher Hitchens rabbit-hole on YouTube will instantly recognize not only the title of this new little book but also its exact provenance ... The dialogue is reproduced here without editorial intervention; there are no stage directions to help newcomers picture the interpersonal dynamics at play. Some of it can be divined from the transcript... but the subtleties of the interplay are missing from these pages ... The natural pang of reading a book like this is of course that there can be only one. As all the participants point out in these pages, one resounding voice in the quartet is now gone, and the New Atheist movement itself has somewhat petered out - it’s extremely unlikely that it will field four simultaneous bestsellers again in our lifetime, and there’s an undeniable magic in this gathering, even on paper.\
RaveThe Open Letters ReviewIt’s lucky for Gropius, luckier than he deserves, that Fiona McCarthy is a superb biographer. She seems to find nothing elusive about her subject ... McCarthy is a wonderfully sympathetic biographer, and her reading and research in these pages is vast. In her search to provide the endearing flesh-and-blood human behind the Bauhaus legend, she’s obliged to supply most of the flesh, blood, and humanity herself, but this is a fascinating thing to watch in its own right. And she frequently steps back to view her subject in an attractively broader perspective ... Architecture aficionados who feel compelled to read an entire long biography of Gropius will never need to read another after this one.
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"The chief merit of the book is its gorgeous prose. Andrews has spent years working on ranches in the American West; he has a large amount of personal experience with the wildlife, and he brings readers into their world in passage after passage of memorable prose ... the book firmly resists cheap sympathy-mongering for either ‘side’ of this issue ... Bryce Andrews has written a book that somehow, even against those odds, manages to shine with a slender but tough light of optimism. Readers will appreciate that even if they end up not quite believing it.\
William J. Burns
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"... important ... The bulk of The Back Channel details the dramatic high points of Burns’ long career, but the clear animating force of the book is the author’s worry that all the behind-the-scenes labors of his friends and colleagues over the years have been summarily invalidated by an idiot in the Oval Office ... The stark nature of the warnings Burns issues about the Trump administration are the alarm-bells ringing in the background of an otherwise calm and personable memoir.\
PositiveThe Open Letters ReviewSomberly fascinating ... Brown sifts through archives, conducts extensive interviews, and creates a damning portrait not only of callous Soviet bureaucracy but also of the shocking complicity of international regulatory bodies like the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency in muting the full horror of the disaster’s aftermath. Worst of all on some levels, much of this conspiring seems to have been motivated by a very mundane fear of legal retribution ... The obvious implications here are terrifying, particularly given the 21st century rise of authoritarian political movements in most of the world’s nuclear powers. After reading her book, Kate Brown’s phrase \'a Chernobyl Guide to the Future\' takes on many new and increasingly ominous undertones.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewSparkling, immensely readable ... a spirited, wonderful portrait of that iron-willed anomaly. Kate Hubbard spends a good deal of time on all those dead husbands and all those famous buildings, but she also draws in the bewildering details of Bess’ inevitable entanglements with the politics of her day (it was a perilous but also alluring thing to be any kind of rival to Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Elizabeth was always sharp-eyed for rivals), mixing everything into a broader-viewed biography of Bess than she’s ever received. A whole new group of readers will be glad to meet her in these pages and get to know a woman who somehow manages to feel modern to every later era.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThis is fairly windy prose, a bit too fond of its own hyperbole ... But...Strauss has mastered a vivid narrative line, a practiced skill at demystifying the past ... Strauss has a near-flawless ear for pacing and a sharp eye for all the best stories. And...he can sometimes follow a good story into error or oddity ... About Augustus’ successor Tiberius, Strauss is engagingly topical ... but Strauss knows as well as anybody that we have no way of knowing what Tiberius considered the proper role of a woman in public. The contrast is simply a good story that’s been around for a long time ... This has almost always been the trade-off confronting readers in books like Ten Caesars ... You get a sumptuous Colosseum of emperor stories that illuminate their eras, but some of the mortar will be mixed with fable and rumor. Strauss handles this trade-off as well as it can be handled; he’s judicious and largely skeptical when he’s sorting through his sources. Readers will learn a lot from his book and the fables will make the lessons a bit sweeter along the way.
PanOpen Letters Review\"... like it’s subject, [the book is] pushy, transparently duplicitous, and completely unconvincing ... [The author] consults a good deal of archival material and turns up many friends of the ex-royal couple who were, in retrospect, willing to say kind things. It doesn’t work, mainly because those same sources are forever slipping their traces and making side-comments that reveal the truth of the received version ... Here’s hoping the writing of this book got the virus out of Anna Pasternak’s system once and for all. Nobody wants to see Eva Braun: Misunderstood Homemaker in 2021.\
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorDespite factual flubs here and there, the majority remains not only very sound but very readable. Our author has written many books on British history and given many talks; he can take readers smoothly through the Norman Conquest, the Plantagenets, the Wars of the Roses, the Tudors, the Stuarts, and all the other usual suspects. The character portraits are sharp and memorably opinionated at every turn ... Strong intersperses his discussion of kings and wars with discourses on writers, composers, scientists, and other ideological trailblazers, drawing these varied threads through the larger tapestry of his story ... if the rest of the book is the same [as the first edition], what does Roy Strong have to say about the Brexit referendum? Nothing earthshaking, as it turns out ... made fine, invigorating reading two decades ago, and it still does.
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"... [a novel containing] bountiful, non-stop action ... As skilled as Greaney is at orchestrating the action sequences that fill his novels, it’s this ear for quippy dialogue... that always provides the grace notes of a Gray Man novel ... Greaney’s characters never sound like characters; they come well-stocked with memorable turns of phrase, they stay wary of everything, and they brim with tetch, even the shadowy characters we see pulling the strings at the novel’s beginning ... Greaney twines the two plots together with a clockwork niceness that never feels artificial, building suspense around the question of whether two such operatives, so formidable individually, might be unbeatable once they’re finally fighting together ... fans of the action-thriller genre who’ve somehow missed Mark Greaney’s books can settle down and begin enjoying themselves right here.\
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"Miller’s L.E.L. is a terrifically detailed and, once again, invigorating account, a fittingly complex monument to a very complicated woman ... Mercifully, Miller spends very little time on... sensationalism; she’s far more concerned with filling in the fine details of a woman working hard to make a living for herself and her dependents by her pen in an age that still tended to frown on such efforts ... [Miller] marshals the raw materials of Letitia Landon’s life to a masterful extent and makes terrific reading out of it all. The only drawback to how well she does one of the two things a Landon biographer can do is how energetically she tries to do the other thing: somehow burnish or renovate Landon’s literary reputation. This is a thoroughly disastrous thing to attempt, and Miller, bless her, attempts it.\
PositiveOpen Letter Review\"Saikal clear objective is to present a distanced and even-handed portrait of what is by any measure a remarkable performance in politics and theocracy; Iran Rising is calm and methodical in its broad-view assessment of such more recent figures as Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose pivotal presidency is given a more searching and intelligent (albeit necessarily abridged) analysis in these pages than it has yet received in English ... the book’s effort at conceptual neutrality can sometimes, to put it mildly, feel a bit strained ... Iran Rising describes a \'very turbulent journey\' in an inevitable tandem: Iran’s relations with the United States are never far from center stage, and American readers may find elements of Saikal’s even-handedness a kind of default apologia that’s tough to square with the facts. But the book’s complete lack of the cheap partisan rhetoric that so often infuses this subject will have those same readers thinking deeply and sometimes re-assessing to the last pages.\
RaveOpen Letters ReviewCompact, intensely readable ... sparklingly chatty ... The dozens of meetings Diderot ended up having with Catherine come off as serio-comic, even in Zaretsky’s gimlet-eyed by sympathetic summaries ... Since these meetings, interesting as they are, don’t provide enough of a framework to support an entire book, Zaretsky amplifies them on all sides and in all directions, telling readers about the intellectual currents of the time, about the details of Catherine’s rise to power and rule, and especially about Diderot himself, who catches Zaretsky’s fascination and affection in much the same way he caught the affection of so many who knew him - simply by being Diderot ... Readers of Catherine & Diderot won’t have much trouble picking out the real mensch in the story, but as a glimpse at a very odd meeting of the minds, this little account could scarcely be bettered.
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"[Kepler\'s] readers, and the newcomers Stalker will likely attract, will find the same nail-gun precision in these pages. The good news is that the reading will be hypnotically easy. The bad news is that thrillers by other writers might begin to look a bit sedate.\
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"... American Pop is memorably, noticeably good ... The story... is, in Wright’s hands, a massively complicated and consistently absorbing chronicle of human weakness in all its forms ... This prodigality of detail, this lavishing of backstory on every single walk-on character, is something of a narrative reflex throughout the book. Wright lodges the stories of his fictional family in a larger meta-chronicle, usually with a very smooth effectiveness ... mightily entertaining...\
Amy S Greenberg
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"... fascinating ... Lady First follows Sarah through the nearly half-century she outlived her husband, and it’s a testament to Amy Greenberg’s narrative abilities that this long anticlimax is every bit as interesting as the years of power. This is the biography Sarah Polk has deserved all these years and never quite until now received.\
PanOpen Letters Review\"It’s challenging to write a tell-all when your legal fees will exceed your book advance. It’s even more challenging when you don’t have anything to tell, which is Sims’ problem. His book, Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House, could easily have been written by a complete stranger to \'Trump World\' ... there’s virtually nothing in this book that couldn’t have been written by a careful viewer of MSNBC ... Team of Vipers would have considerably more punch if it weren’t so clearly written by one of the vipers.\
Andrew S. Curran
RaveOpen Letters Review\"... a brilliant, sparkling affair that courses over every major and minor incident in Diderot’s remarkable life ... the most charming aspect of Diderot and the Art of Thinking Freely is the flattering way it bows low to its own modern-day readers, right here in the 21st century. In writing about those voluminous and far less-known pieces of Diderot prose, Curran imagines a reader-relationship that spans centuries instead of only social strata ... Lacking the man, we’re fortunate at least to have this fine, cheering book.\
PanOpen Letters Review\"Fortunately, Christie and his extremely talented collaborator Ellis Henican don’t dawdle very long before getting to the highlights of Christie’s colorful political career. Here readers get the combative governor whose frequent unscripted town hall meetings racked up, it’s repeatedly stressed, terrific numbers on YouTube ... [Christie argues Trump is] not corrupt, he’s just staffed that way. This is pure nonsense, as a lifelong lawyer and politician like Christie must know perfectly well, but like so much else in Let Me Finish, it’s also much worse than nonsense, much darker, since it’s all enlisted in the cause of evil ... Let Me Finish touts it’s in-your-face straight talking at every turn, but it has more back-door escape hatches than a New Orleans brothel ... This isn’t record-setting; it’s reverse-engineering.\
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorFor the bulk of Sen’s book, the environmental factors take a backseat to far more traditional events of panoramic histories ... Readers must expect the lacunae of such an approach, of course. Like the river itself, Sen’s book touches on dozens of key points and then flows on its way. The stunning ecology of the Ganges, for instance, its endangered present-day wildlife and wetlands, is only glancingly mentioned. And although Sen is deftly conversant in India’s great literary tradition, his book doesn’t throw prolonged focus on the renowned spiritual side of the Ganges ... What readers will get here instead is a glittering current of impressions and eras, a book very much meeting Sen’s own description of the goddess Ganga herself: part human, part water.
PanOpen Letters Review\"On every level of the intentionality spectrum, the novel encourages readers not only to sympathize with Bush but, by extension, to exonerate him ... a prodigious amount of research congregates right beneath the chatty, fast-moving surface of the plot ... The book bristles with cast. Mallon knew a great many of the newsmakers of the day, and he’s read up infinitely on all the others, and he’s determined to cram every last member of that cast into Landfall ... No anguish and precious little wrong in Landfall, but readers can at least hope that the author’s comments about bringing a trilogy to a close are true. Seeing this kind of tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner nonsense doled out to first Nixon then Reagan and now Bush has been trying enough.\
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"... this is a brutal, almost oppressive exposé. If mega-corporations like Google or Amazon didn’t in fact rule the world, a book as damning Zucked would spell the end of Facebook ... Our author might cut [Zuckerberg] and [Sheryl Sandberg] some slack for stealing the ideas of other people and using them to create a hydra that continues to despoil the world almost completely unchecked, but readers of Zucked won’t be inclined to such mercies. McNamee has done his work too well.\
MixedOpen Letters ReviewHistorian Alison Weir continues her series of mammoth Tudor historical novels ... but there\'s precious little nuance in Weir\'s book. Instead, readers get buckets and buckets of otherworldly grace and delicacy. Jane\'s brothers Thomas and Edward were as coarse and conniving a pair of climbers as were ever drawn to the flame of Court intrigue, but if we\'re to judge by personalities and world-views, Jane not only never talked with them, she very likely never met them ... When a novel\'s main character and narrative focus refers to herself as \'pure in heart\' without the smallest trace of irony, you know you\'re in for a bit of a slog. Weir saves her novel from being a total quagmire largely through skills she\'s developed over decades of writing history: she knows how to fill a page with atmospheric historical details without ever seeming to do so, and she knows how to bring alive the passions and customs of an alien time ... Catherine may well have been tedious enough to qualify for sainthood, but a novelist who\'s willing to whitewash Anne Boleyn will certainly have no trouble draining the life out of a mere sketch of a character like Jane Seymour.
D. W. Pasulka
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"Much of American Cosmic deals in fascinating detail with that formation [of religious zeal toward UFOs] ... The main problem with such a diplomatic double approach [between interesting the author’s fellow students of religious history as well as the many various members of that new religion] is that only one half of it is based in reality, and that fact is often blurry in American Cosmic ... There is not one shred of actual scientific evidence for any of [the] presumptions [of UFO believers]. Pasulka is being friendly and diplomatic in her field research, yes, but she’s being friendly and diplomatic about people who are deeply, ingrainedly delusional.\
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorDonovan concentrates on the men who made the unprecedented journey. The Apollo 11 astronauts come to life in his vividly readable pages, and each is a vigorously drawn personality, despite what our author notes is, well, a certain sameness in the crew.
Cailin O'Connor and James Owen Weatherall
MixedOpen Letters ReviewConnor and Weatherall join the ranks of journalists and historians who churn out canned histories of the role of \'fake news\' in America in the last two centuries, and their own such summary is smart and readable. But such summaries attempt to normalize the present by contextualizing it in the past; this is itself an attempt at creating fake news. This in itself is misinformation. There is no analog anywhere in post-Civil War America for the gushing font of frenzied, compulsive lying now being done every single day by the President of the United States ... The authors clearly want to ground the whole concept in a broader setting, but this is like the Fire Department rushing to a roaring inferno and beginning their rescue attempts with a 40-minute PowerPoint presentation on the history of house fires in America.
Doug Bock Clark
PanOpen Letters Review\"Clark writes movingly of the time he’s spent with these people, and to the larger issues he sees them as embodying ... And just in case such savagely callous taunting weren’t enough, just in case there might be even a handful of readers who would learn such [whale] facts...and still trundle merrily along with the book’s thrilling tales of harpoons and metal spikes and showers of blood, on the faint off-chance that [Clark] might have a couple of readers who might try to ease the awkwardness by telling themselves that at least the Lamalerans themselves must view their prey as mere dumb machines they have every right to hunt and kill, no, no, they know precisely otherwise ... Clark writes [consistently] of sententious moralizing in this hideous, grotesquely hypocritical book.\
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"Instead of a travesty, Charyn here gives readers the very first truly terrific [Teddy Roosevelt] novel... It’s a breathless and at times very strange novel, sharing its odd kaleidoscopic quality with Charyn’s The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, for instance ... it’s hard to imagine a reader who could finish this book and not yearn for a Charyn novel about the next decade in his hero’s life.\
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewThe book\'s strongest element is its negotiation of the past slipping away from the present ... a fittingly delicate piece of work, capturing with quiet assurance the London of a long-gone era and finding a fascinating story in the fold of one single dress. Surely comparatively few of Robson\'s readers will remember this particular royal wedding, but The Gown makes a tiny part of it come to life again.
MixedOpen Letters Review\"The device of keeping Rebus around as a kind of consulting Banquo’s Ghost is an obvious sop to the sentimentality of Rankin’s long-time readers ... Rebus’ involvement in each new case is just a bit more gratingly unlikely than the last, and as wonderful as it is to see this old character under any circumstances, Rankin’s skill at every other element, the characters, the pacing, the plot twists, is so honed that hauling wheezing old Rebus on-stage every single time feels increasingly unnecessary. Heresy of heresies, but it might be time for a bloody exit, and we’ll trust Rankin to leave no rubs nor botches in the work.\
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"Jamail’s journalistic skills allow him to evoke [the book\'s] details with a succinct power that many other accounts might lack, but the facts themselves, told to him by on expert after another, are as familiar as they are bleak ... Even in the book’s most optimistic moments, this sere tone remains.\
James Romm, Trans. by Pamela Mensch
RaveOpen Letters ReviewOne of the publishing season’s neatest little surprises ... only barely stretches to 100 pages, but it’s been given a downright royal treatment ... If you’re going to give a new burst of life to an ancient piece of trivia as trite and banal as this, Characters is exactly the way to do it; Callaway has spared no expense to make this a little volume worth keeping. Mensch does wonders with the author’s boring generalities and Carrilho’s sumptuous black-and-white illustrations are unfailing more profound in a single image than Theophrastus manages to be in 200 words.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewSusskind’s inquiry into the future of digital technology’s impact on the world is bogglingly wide-ranging...and refreshingly literate ... \'What hope is there for ordinary people to have a share in the powers that govern them?\' Future Politics does its nerdy best to answer that question with hope instead of despair (something about blockchains), but nevertheless, its portrait of those ordinary people increasingly crushed between tiny superrich oligarchies, overreaching interventionist governments and, essentially, the Borg Collective, is as dark as something out of The Matrix.
C. J. Sansom
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorLongtime readers of this superb series will know what to expect on every level: sharply drawn characters, particularly Shardlake himself, who has grown into one of the most well-textured leading characters in the entire genre; fully realized historical settings, in this case not only the cut-and-thrust politics of the royal court but also the multifaceted nature of Kett’s Rebellion; and most of all the sense that these sumptuous books are more Tudor historical novels that happen to feature murder mysteries than they are murder mysteries that happen to take place in Tudor times ... Kett’s Rebellion is an inspired choice on Sansom’s part for a real-world pivot on which to turn the major events of the novel, and readers will learn a great deal about the movement’s leaders, aims, and progression, not only from the novel itself but also from the author’s supplementary essay on the subject. But if Tombland has a flaw, it’s that by abandoning so conspicuously the brevity that is the hallmark of a tense tale of murder, it makes its own whodunit elements feel irrelevant. Considering how intensely satisfying every novel in this series is, it will feel like heresy to suggest this latest one might have benefitted from some editorial pruning, but I’m sure I won’t be the only reader thinking it.
Emerson T. Brooking and P.W. Singer
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewAuthors P. W. Singer and Emerson Brooking, in their vital new book...have an unnerving and totally effective way of letting the numbers speak for themselves ... 8 billion people come together to create the extremely detailed and terrifyingly pervasive world of social media, and in LikeWar that world receives a thorough and grabbingly written cartography. None of it makes pleasant reading, mainly because there are no uninterested parties. Singer and Brooking talk to dozens of the most fascinating and colorful parties ... LikeWar is a crucial dispatch from the frontier of a world that\'s changing radically on an almost daily basis, where the most desperate and powerful actors are the innocent, the opportunistic, and the authoritarian—and the rest of us.
Marcello Di Cintio
RaveOpen Letters ReviewCanadian writer Marcello Di Cintio notes in his stunning, important new book Pay No Heed to the Rockets something the vast majority of his readers might never have seriously questioned in their own thinking: the Palestine of the weekly news headlines completely obscures the Palestine of living daily reality.
Edited by Leslie S. Klinger
PanOpen Letters ReviewSince none of those texts is exactly The Anatomy of Melancholy, the book’s margins tend to be open and snowy white spaces, and the relatively few annotations that appear tend to be on the droning side, querulously taking readers aside in order to tell them things they could easily Google if they were interested. Which they wouldn’t be ... But there’s almost nothing inviting about the format that was chosen for all these labors of love, which is rendered all the more wistful by how immediately obvious the better alternatives are. Print a single volume with all five novels, for instance, but acknowledge the skimpy number of truly helpful annotations and turn them into a far smaller number of footnotes at the bottom of the page, thus dispensing with the need for double columns and presto, shrinking the book to a portable size. Or dispense with two-thirds of the photos ... The juxtaposition of the grand arrangement and the tawdry, addictively readable pap it contains feels like burying your dead childhood parakeet in a 10-acre marble mausoleum. Here’s hoping the paperback reprint next year takes the form of five separate thin floppy paperbacks.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewReading Bergman\'s prodigiously researched book prompts many conclusions, but foremost of them is this: nobody anywhere in this huge, bristling story has any monopoly on morality ... It\'s a mile-wide moral distinction, but it\'s irrelevant junk on the roadside throughout Bergman\'s book, which relates in unprecedented detail the decades-long history of Israel\'s Mossad ... Many of these particular stories have never been told before, and virtually none of them have been told this well, in this much detail. Bergman\'s skill at sketching characters extends ... Bergman is exceedingly skilled at all this ... illuminating.
Haruki Murakami, Trans. by Jay Rubin
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewIt’s a heavy, obviously ambitious production, thirty-five short works by thirty-two authors, in a collection overseen by much-lauded translator Jay Rubin and introduced by much-lauded novelist and short story writer Haruki Murakami, and its format isn’t the limit of its unconventional nature ... Rubin ignores an important factor he knows all about: Japanese authors don’t just react to real-world events ... they also react, and always have reacted, to other Japanese authors. Students reading those boring old chronological surveys can’t help but see this, and good-time readers of this anthology can’t help but miss it. Missing also are some fairly towering names. Writers of the caliber of Shusaku Endo, Kobo Abe, Kenzaburo Oe and Naoya Shiga are nowhere to be found here, and either of the possible reasons for that is unappealing. But maybe all these unconventional choices are part of the package of an anthology like this, a full-sized original hardcover appearing in the Penguin Classics line to shake things up and provide an adventurous alternative to the many Japanese short story collections that have preceded it. Readers ready for such an adventure will find it here.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewThe story of Operation Argument – known from its own time and ever since simply as Big Week – receives what will surely be its most detailed and comprehensive popular history ... the kind of bolts-and-model numbers hyper-detailed account of the events, people, and aircraft that will give joy to any reader who specializes in this pivotal sliver of WWII ... Holland displays here a novelist\'s knack for description and capturing character ... will certainly act a the definitive detailed operational account of Operation Argument, and it doubles nicely as a tribute to men like Harris. Readers wanting an equally detailed examination of whether or not women and children actually can be viewed as \'legitimate targets for attack\' will have to look elsewhere.
Francesca Lidia Viano
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"... intensely thought-provoking ... the book’s 50 pages of close-packed Endnotes speak to the research underpinning Sentinel’s rich portrait of Bartholdi and Laboulaye themselves ... A refreshing chunk of the book’s latter half is dedicated to these very grubby real-world wranglings to get the statue made, to get it to America, to get its Bedloe’s Island base financed and built ... Sentinel does as much as any book can... to restore Bartholdi’s grim goddess some of her original mystery, and in the process it tells the story of Liberty’s birth with a probing complexity that’s a far better tribute to both the country of her origin and the country that welcomed her, the most prominent immigrant in the world.\
MixedThe NationalIn Shakespeare and the Resistance, Asquith puts the playwright’s two narrative poems under a microscope, drawing hundreds of parallels between Shakespeare’s gorgeous versifying and the power struggles going on at the highest levels of Elizabethan court ... Asquith is better at this kind of speculation than any other Shakespeare scholar, but even so, the counter-narrative frequently creaks under the strain. Some of the book’s claims are eyebrow-raising to say the least ... Readers will be entertained, but they might not be convinced.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewDunn vents passionately about the possible benefits these creatures could provide to humans and urges his readers to think about those benefits ... although the tentacles and mandibles of his imagination might be waving in the direction of pan-species cooperation, Dunn\'s feet are planted firmly in the real world ... The book is crammed full of eeensy-weensy tales of wonder from the insect world, stories about the biological marvels that have evolved over eons among beetles, spiders, and all the various multi-legged thumb-long flesh-colored monsters that live in your bathtub drains. On virtually every page, readers learn about these marvels ... You\'ll never look at your bookcases the same way again.
RaveOpen Letters Review\"Explosive ... [Wawro] states the heart of his case with the simple directness of the best revisionist history ... Methodically and utterly convincingly ... vivid and evocative prose ... an account of the war that will give even lifelong history enthusiasts whole worlds to ponder.\
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorMiles is still an engrossing storyteller and a very capable teacher, here organizing his material around a handful of key figures from earlier scriptures: Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and Jesus ... But everything hits a wall ... Readers will still encounter many of the fascinating insights that filled the [author\'s] previous two books, but, ironically, they\'ll find no revelations in these pages.
Edited by David Lough
RaveOpen Letters ReviewLough himself is omnipresent throughout the book, thank God. He’s a perfect concierge, gliding soundlessly to your elbow before every new batch of letters and tactfully whispering just enough information to keep you from floundering in the blizzard of proper names and darting allusions to the news of the day. There are quick, discreet footnotes on every page, and the book is also generously supplied with gorgeous black-and-white photos that follow our correspondents from year to year. There’s also an invaluable appendix identifying the players that warrants a separate bookmark of its own. My Darling Winston provides a strange and almost pleasurably irritating reading experience ... they’re both [Churchill and his mother] such awful people ... Every time he starts a letter with \'my dearest Mummy,\' you imagine yourself trapped in a version of Brideshead Revisited told by Boy Mulcaster ... they’re each slaves to a second and very loud kind of love, love of the limelight, love of hearing their names on the lips of other people ... this is the riveting psychic drama that plays out underneath the surface of My Darling Winston. That makes it a valuable addition to the near-endless Winston Churchill library but a surprisingly dark one.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewSleepyhead takes readers through the whole world of sleep: sleep patterns, sleep biology, sleep disorders, sleep diseases, and, doggedly if fruitlessly, sleep remedies. Most of these remedies have become familiar from books and online forums in recent years, as growing numbers of people realize that they’ve allowed sleep to be crowded into a small and fractured corner of their lives. The basics are always the same: turn off your electronics well before you go to bed, keep your sleeping-place dark and cool, give yourself the number of hours you need, and be generous in estimating those hours. In short: treat your sleep with the respect it deserves, regardless of how enticing some Twitter stranger’s latest multi-part rant might seem. All the most conscientious books in the world won’t matter if over-stimulated readers don’t recognize that the over-stimulation itself is the problem, but Sleepyhead does everything it can.
RaveOpen Letter Review...The Big Book of Female Detectives is another amazement in a long line of doorstop anthologies that bid fair to being the final word on their subjects ... As usual with Black Lizard paperback volumes, The Big Book of Female Detectives is fat, oversized floppy monstrosity of a book, with extra-wide double-columned pages. It’s so flexibly bound that your copy will look like a First World War artifact after one week in your shoulder bag. But you’ll keep carrying it around until you’ve soaked up every last story. Otto Penzler knows exactly what he’s doing.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorIn brightly engaging chapters, Roberts takes readers through all the stages of Churchill\'s adventurous life as a soldier of the empire and then as a professional politician...And Roberts is frank about Churchill\'s famous failures ... Roberts is a shrewd and experienced biographer.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThe subtitle of Philbrick\'s book is puzzling. Even the most sympathetic reader will be hard-pressed to attach any \'genius\' to George Washington in this story...but boosting a national hero is surely forgivable on Philbrick\'s part, and the vast remainder of his story is told with all the zest and eloquence his millions of readers have come to expect ... In the Hurricane\'s Eye is exactly the kind of rousing narrative account [The Battle of the Chesapeake] deserves.
MixedOpen Letters Review\"Talented and accomplished [writing, like Zamoyski\'s] would be a godsend in a new 750-page biography of [historical figures with fewer biographies]… but in the service of writing yet another big book about Bonaparte? Take a number. Get in line ... Considering the extent to which hagiography sells hardcovers, one doesn\'t expect to encounter this kind of assessment in a brick called Napoleon: A Life, so maybe readers should be grateful for any kind of critical assessment of this little monster. There are precious few such assessments in these pages. Instead, in every chapter, at every key dramatized moment, there are subtle and not-so-subtle shadings designed to exonerate this after-all-just-a-man Bonaparte ... Readers looking for that Bonaparte myth – and sales figures suggest they are legion – will find no better rendition of it this season than Zamoyski\'s book. That\'s a kind of distinction, but just as when Bonaparte would smile his piglet little half-smile at some general and say \'You\'re a man after my own heart,\' it\'s a dubious distinction.\
David W. Blight
RaveOpen Letters Review\"... Blight\'s book is particularly brilliant in fleshing out that later, public period of his subject\'s life. In addition to wearing his scholarly erudition lightly (though enormous, this is an effortlessly readable book), Blight is also winningly curious, constantly probing the settled scenes of Douglass\'s fame in order to locate the man inside the growing mythos. It\'s an academic\'s reflex, posing questions in order to further discussion, and in Blight\'s handling, it works with smooth believability ... This is a magnificent biography of an American who remains perennially pivotal to the national story; it deserves to be the standard Frederick Douglass life for a new generation.\
RaveOpen Letters Review\"The reach and ease with which Guha works Gandhi\'s own words and thoughts into every aspect, virtually every moment, of this long and complicated story is at first startling and then just reassuringly marvelous, surely the most bristlingly readable narrative life of Gandhi readers are ever likely to see ... Impressively, even over the course of 1,000 pages, the energy of Guha\'s biography never flags.\
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorHilarious and endlessly fascinating ... well-illustrated pages ...this book is potentially invaluable (and mighty entertaining) one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about life, the universe, and the fly wheel.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorTraces Franklin more minutely than any previous general biography...Bunker makes some high claims for his hero, which makes Franklin sound like a tedious paragon of disembodied virtue. Fortunately for readers, the man who lives in the pages of Young Benjamin Franklin is much more interesting.
PositiveOpen Letters Review\"Reagan: An American Journey is remarkable for the three-dimensional humanity it reveals in its subject, but even so, we wouldn\'t be reading our 25th biography of the star of Kings Row. And when it comes to the balance-sheet of President Reagan, Spitz is almost terse ... Reagan biographies too often come across as authorized royal biographies, and aspects of that reflex cling even to an account as thoroughly satisfying as Reagan: An American Journey. But this is an irresistibly talented and intelligent author, here telling a supercharged story. Shoppers for doorstop biographies could do much worse.\
RaveOpen Letters Review\"Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life by the great Diarmaid MacCulloch, a work by one of our greatest living historians that was years in the making and lays out a wonderfully eloquent and challenging massive new interpretation of Cromwell’s life and times. MacCulloch’s book dives deep into the brambles of Tudor documentation, reads all the old accounts afresh, and presents to readers a portrait every bit as complicated and suggestive and enhanced as the one by Holbein ... Readers drawn to this book by their love of Wolf Hall will find a world of fact in the place of a narrative of fancy, and such is MacCulloch’s own storytelling gifts that most of those readers will happily keep reading for the whole 700 pages. Cromwell’s rise, flourishing, and fall traced an entire broad arc of Henry’s reign, and MacCulloch illuminates the familiar story of that arc with new color and emphasis and argument.\
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewThe great composer Robert Schumann receives a sharp, knowing, and complicatedly sympathetic treatment in his latest biography, Schumann: The Faces and the Masks by Judith Chernaik, who fills her book with Schumann’s music but keeps her focus always on the man. Schumann hasn’t lacked for biographers since his death in 1856...Chernaik does everything she can to change this; not only does her book feature some of the most passionate appreciations of Schumann’s music ever written in English, but she leaves her readers very specific and very encouraging instructions on how to find every last note of that music for free online.
RaveOpen Letter ReviewsElectronic security expert Bruce Schneier’s studiously terrifying new book Click Here To Kill Everybody: Security and Survival in a Hyper-connected World, is a concerted counter-playbook to the end of human civilization, and the deaf ears it will fall upon have been deadened by two completely erroneous assumptions: that an unregulated Internet is better than a regulated one, and that Internet problems only affect people on the Internet ... The urgent message of Click Here To Kill Everybody is that overcoming such inertia is now literally a matter of life and death. The book should be required reading for anybody who’s ever put their life or the life of their loved ones in the hands of ‘smart’ technology ... and in 2018, that’s everybody.
PositiveThe Open Letters ReviewAn Act of Villainy’s plot commences immediately ... The proceedings unfold so smoothly that readers will almost forget that they’ve been challenged to find any of those proceedings rote. Is the letter-sender the same person who later graduates to far worse offenses? Is that person the aggrieved wife of Gerald Halloway? The gone-to-seed old actor in The Price of Victory? Any of three other distinctly predictable suspects? In any case, readers will know to expect a thoroughly delightful hour of escapist fiction ... It’s so easy to feel affection for Amory and Milo and their cast of supporting characters that we hardly want to think of that brutal future intruding on them. Here’s to many more simple murders—predictable or otherwise—before the series ever gets that far.
David Levering Lewis
RaveOpen Letters ReviewFortunately, Lewis spends little time on the surface levels; the last thing the reading market needs is the refashioning of Wendell Wilkie into some kind of Trump manqué. Rather, The Improbable Wendell Wilkie delves shrewdly and deeply into the fundamentals of the man and his time. Lewis clearly wants to create the most rounded personal and political portrait of the odd phenomenon of Wendell Wilkie yet written, the kind of clear but sympathetic assessment that phenomenon has always deserved but that comparatively few historians are equipped to make. The book succeeds admirably. Lewis’ notes and bibliography reveal his customary enormous and wide-ranging research, but as in his earlier biographies, so too here: the book’s most reliable delight is its bright parade of perfectly-realized characters ... no previous biography has given the modern reader this kind of immediate sense of...the multifaceted appeal of the man [Wilkie].
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorLepore writes about...ongoing struggle with an eloquence and concision that’s belied by her book’s large size. She charts the seismic changes in American life, as urbanization took hold and changed the face of the working world (in 1880, she notes, less than five percent of the country’s workforce was clerical, whereas by 1920 there were millions of clerks in America, and half of them were women); through court cases and street marches and presidential campaigns, she follows the often torturously slow progress made toward the self-evident truth of equality. And she makes it all intensely dramatic reading as no author has done since Hugh Brogan’s Longman History of the United States of America back in 1985. It’s an unsettling, thoroughly amazing performance ... it’s virtually impossible not to feel something of both Lepore’s quiet, almost defiant optimism and something of the historian’s long view of time’s slow currents. These Truths deftly includes its readers in the history they’re reading, reminding them of the perspective that’s the only sure guarantee against either triumphalism or excoriation.
Jean-Christophe Brisard and Lana Parshina
MixedOpen Letters ReviewNot one single element of this sequence is in any serious factual doubt ... Hence, The Death of Hitler: The Final Word, which is full of hysterically atmospheric passages in which our daring duo encounter the chilly disdain of Boris-and-Natasha-style Russian officials ... to their credit, some kind of credit, some adjunct sideways kind of credit, our authors make their own story of taking on the State Archives very dramatic, zippy reading, full of heroes and villains, full of dramatic twists and turns, full of charged dialogue in low-ceilinged rooms, full of Russian femmes fatale with steely eyes and crossed arms, sternly guarding their 80-year-old shards of ghoulish junk. None of the tense convulsions of The Death of Hitler unsettles or overturns even the smallest detail of the story of Hitler’s final days, but the book tells its own story with all the zest of revelation. It doesn’t actually provide any revelations, but it prowls over all the old evidence with an eager stage-setting that readers will find entertaining, provided they keep their skepticism ready to hand.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorDevoted readers of military history will enjoy the wealth of details—and will no doubt argue with some of Beevor\'s conclusions, both large-scale and small. Here as in all other tellings, Montgomery receives the lion\'s share of the blame for the disaster, although he astounded his allies by never actually accepting any of that blame ... Beevor concludes his book with a harrowing account of this “Hunger Winter,\' when over 20,000 Dutch civilians died ... The Battle of Arnhem is a thrilling and deeply involving addition to that long discussion.
RaveOpen Letters Review\"Orlean interviews everybody still available and goes over all the evidence for and against Peak’s guilt, and she writes it all with tremendous narrative skill. Readers who might not imagine themselves interested in the nuts-and-bolts details of a library fire 40 years ago will find themselves hanging on every twist in the tale. But as satisfying as that tale is, there are other levels to The Library Book, and they’re every bit as satisfying and more surprising ... This is the most lasting magic of The Library Book: this ravishing evocation of the magic that has at one time or another enchanted us all. The book functions perfectly well as a thrilling true-crime history, but it’s these broader moments that make it a special achievement even for this seasoned author and brings out some of her most beautiful prose.\
PositiveOpen Letters Review...it’s possible to look at Fear as not really a book at all, any more than a pile of court transcripts would be a book. But this would indeed be an injustice, because there’s a surprising and encouraging amount of wry, almost literary business going on in Fear, a kind of dry, mordant wit that’s likewise discernible in Woodward’s earlier books but never quite so badly needed as in this one, with its relentless anecdotes of apocalyptic incompetence and deceit. Woodward is too much of a professional to put a soft focus on that apocalypse, but his native comic sensibility prompts him often to see the humor in a free country’s slide into trivial despotism ... despite the sobering nature of what Fear describes, those little po-faced jabs happen throughout the book and are apt to be overlooked in the news-desk frenzy to decry the political calamity described on every page ... Fear isn’t the moment in the doctor’s office when the diagnosis of cancer is made; it’s the series of follow-up appointments in which the extent of the rot is clinically clarified. It has the same dead-weight momentum of those follow-up appointments, and it shares their macabre fascination.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewThis is one of those novels that concludes its business with a minimum of fanfare, in less time than it takes many novels even to set the silverware, so that you’re thinking about it long after you’ve finished reading it ... He [Reid] borrows some raw basic elements from science fiction, but he does so mostly because he wants to explore questions of identity and love, not because he ever intends to give the props anything much in the way of texture or detail. Unlike with most genre-sightseeing books, however, Foe is saved by the intelligence and delicacy Reid uses to craft the characters in his little ‘what-if’ fable, particularly Henrietta, who moves steadily from an oddly background figure to someone far more complex. Junior too is telegraphed simply but developed into something much more memorable than the cardboard figure he seems at first. The tension in the little farmhouse is the element that lingers long after the book is over.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewIn addition to the broad cast of well-drawn characters, the book also has many quick, fine descriptions of the lush natural settings against which the stark danger of the plots unfolds. And almost all such descriptions, there’s a nod to time, to the fact that although Languoreth’s era is fifteen hundred years in the past, it contains many reminders of time stretching even further back ... The Lost Queen arrives in a beautifully-produced edition from Touchstone and Simon & Schuster, a think of heavy, ornate design that matches the dramatic and sometimes overheated indulgences of Pike’s narrative and dialogue. Although the pacing never slows below a brisk canter, there are many elements of this story that are pleasingly old-fashioned in their primary-color urgency. The Lost Queen will also draw inevitable comparisons with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, and fans of that series will find something of its earnest melodrama here, as well as a considerably more elusive quality: the feeling of a very promising start.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewIn clear, engaging prose, Arnold takes readers through the horrifying familiar details again: the rapid spread of the disease as infected populations were shifted in the wake of the war, the vicious nature of the \'second wave\' of the disease, when victims who’d felt perfectly healthy at breakfast could collapse on the street hours later and be dead by sundown, and the widespread social reactions, as ineffective protective face masks became chic fashion accessories and morbid ditties about the disease became best-selling songs. The strongest element of Pandemic 1918 is its virtually cinematic use of contemporary reactions to it all, from famous sources like Robert Graves or Vera Brittain to the unknown medical foot soldiers on the front lines of fighting the disease and helping the sick.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewChristopher Tolkien, in this new volume, brings to a conclusion his decades-long endeavor to present definitive critical editions of his late father’s writings about wizards, hobbits, and all things Middle Earth. The Fall of Gondolin follows last year’s Beren and Lúthien ... tells the story of a dark hero, Tuor, in the age before the events of The Lord of the Rings, and his story plays out against a backdrop featuring far more mythological than what readers encounter in the famous trilogy: in this story, men and elves interact with the gods Tolkien has set over Middle Earth, and his High Elf lords fight with monsters, and all of it centers around the hidden city of Gondolin, a long-ago legend to figures like Gandalf and Aragorn in The Fellowship of the Ring ... The Children of Húrin amply demonstrated that these volumes will be greedily consumed by their cognoscenti, although the note of finality in The Fall of Gondolin is somber. Christopher Tolkien is in his nineties and plans no further books; the literary legacy of his father will soon pass into other hands.
RaveOpen Letter ReviewLinnea Hartsuyker follows up her totally winning debut The Half-Drowned King with another...historical novel set in medieval Norway. The Half-Drowned King concentrated on the story of Ragnar Eysteinsson, a fighting man and brother-in-arms to Norway\'s King Harald, and The Sea Queen continues his adventures as he takes more and more ambitious gambles Harald\'s service, despite the personal costs that have been exacted along the way ... The Sea Queen tells her story with rousing confidence and carefully-timed intervals of quiet sympathy, at once a...adventure story and a moving portrait of very complicated love. This is an even more accomplished novel than its predecessor and sets the reader keenly on edge for the next volume in the series.
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewReaders hoping for more than a somewhat clinical backward glance will note something...there’s no direct recounting of what must have been a storm of guilt and anger and outrage; instead, Tomalin, ever the careful researcher, consults the primary sources. It’s elegantly written, but it employs exactly the same combination of exactitude and reserve that a biographer might bring ... Perhaps unsurprisingly, A Life of My Own consequently comes most alive when Tomalin is writing about writing. Her chronicle of literary London reads less vivaciously but rings truer than similar ones written by more roistering types, and her account of the daily juggling acts of a working literary editor at the Sunday Times is a priceless combination of warmth and precision.
RaveThe Open Letters ReviewIn The Line That Held Us...the two men are decent, ordinary guys (and their friendship so truly realized it\'s applause-worthy), their crime is terrifying, ultimate, tragic—and their punishment is Biblical. The result is riveting. And the greatest success in the book is the creation of Dwayne Brewer. When we first meet him he\'s brutal and overbearing, but also playful and capable of accessing a kind of honest morality ... the loss of that other self [his brother] unbalances Dwayne in ways Joy never allows to become entirely predictable, or entirely loathsome. The Line That Held Us is an autopsy of what friendship really is—its assumptions, its limits, its obligations. But the dark current of revenge constantly pulling at the narrative is what many readers will recall the longest after they\'ve put the book down.
RaveThe Open Letters ReviewBerger has quite a few enlightening things to say about polar bears in these pages ... He visits places that seem as remote from the climate-change debate as if they were moons of Saturn, but Extreme Conservation makes the point again and again that remoteness is itself frittering away—and was always an illusion in any case ... Berger is a passionate, eloquent guide to the hinterlands and their suddenly endangered signature inhabitant ... Joel Berger here describes a world on the cusp of altering beyond recognition—and the \'extreme conservation\' necessary there will soon be necessary everywhere.
Cixin Liu, Trans. by Joel Martinsen
MixedOpen Letters ReviewIt\'s lucky for readers that Cixin Liu (smoothly translated here by Joel Martinsen) is fairly skillful at making such exposition interesting ... The novel\'s story expands to include terrorism, war, and a few half-hearted stabs at investing Chen with anything resembling a personality ... When ball lightning\'s potential as a weapon of war is explored, the parallels with previous doomsday weapons in previous World Wars are invoked with a good deal of thought but no art ... This can make for some fairly bloodless reading, despite the interpersonal tensions Cixin Liu amplifies between secondary characters in the book\'s final third ... Ball Lightning will nonetheless surely appeal far more to Cixin Liu\'s large body of established fans than to a newcomer perhaps wondering what all the fuss was about.
PositiveOpen Letters Review...it\'s a very strong debut ... The wearing thing about the novel – and also the main source of its dark charisma – is its steady undermining of this thready note of sweetness ... Cherry (sporting the hideous US cover design that\'s seemingly required by law) is a stark story, told with a continuously disarming candor in a string of vividly-written vignettes. The vignettes themselves never really coalesce into a larger narrative, but that\'s something of a rarity in debut novels in any case. As it is, the book is well worth attention.
C J Chivers
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe Fighters tells its six stories in gripping detail ... These accounts work an irresistible emotional effect on the reader ... Chivers has produced a masterful work of atmospheric reporting, and it\'s a book that will have every reader asking—with varying degrees of urgency or anger or despair—the final question Chivers himself asks: \'How many lives had these wars wrecked?\'
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorDe Gaulle\'s beliefs were always slowly, tectonically evolving, and he fought a lifelong rear-guard action against that process, constantly characterizing those same beliefs as fixed \'for the last thousand years.\' It\'s a sobering challenge for a biographer, and it makes Jackson\'s achievement here all the more impressive. He\'s always thorough but never pedantic, always clarifying but never simplifying, and he deploys an enormous amount of research with a consistently light touch and a dry wit his illustrious subject might have appreciated. Or not: Jackson never buys into the intense self-mythologizing that de Gaulle engaged in for the whole of his life ... And Jackson is particularly brilliant precisely where such brilliance is most badly needed: the Algerian War of Independence ... Jackson\'s nuanced version feels like the final word on the subject ... de Gaulle the man is painted perfectly in these pages.
RaveOpen Letters Review...richly involving ... Zinovieff\'s novel is suffused with atmosphere—despite its lurid main plot, some of the book\'s best scenes are pure exercises in atmosphere—and this begins right away ... Zinovieff orchestrates her book\'s headlong climax with a careful mixture of drama and restraint ... At no point does the narrative stoop to simplicities of blame and amends; everything stays refreshingly, disturbingly more complicated than that. Putney is a story about the long shadow abuse can cast on the lives of all involved, but it consistently works on intellectual and emotional levels in order to tell that story, leaving hymn-book moralizing for lesser treatments.
Anne de Courcy
PositiveOpen Letters Review...[a] fascinating new book ... De Courcy is a very practiced hand at this sort of thing; her earlier books, including The Viceroy\'s Daughters and Debs at War, likewise sort through piles of secondary sources in order to produce a string of perfect evocative anecdotes and a solid backdrop of an era ... De Courcy captures a great deal of the sad romance and sharp wit of that era in these pages.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorBoyd\'s book distinguishes itself not only for the breadth of its investigation but also for the palpable tone of frustration that runs throughout. Historians are professionally wary of hindsight, and Boyd never blames her subjects for not knowing the future. But even so, her moral outrage is often obvious ... The final chapters of Boyd\'s book take the story past the point of no return, into the war-days and their ruinous aftermath ... readers will likely share Boyd\'s quiet outrage that more Germans didn\'t see—or weren\'t willing to admit—what was happening right in front of their eyes.
RaveOpen Letters Review\"As could probably be predicted from his extensive writing history, he\'s a first-rate observer, well able to portray pathos without sentimentality. He follows the people of Tangier Island through the various minutiae of their daily lives, bringing their humanity to life at every turn. And he fore-grounds his narrative with a succinct description of the torturous genesis of the blue crabs that form the basis of the areas entire economy ... It was the locational bedrock of Tangier Island\'s economy, but it\'s largely irrelevant if Tangier Island isn\'t there anymore. The blue crab industry in the Chesapeake will continue, but as Chesapeake Requiem makes eloquently, heartbreakingly clear, it will continue without Tangier Island.\
PositiveOpen Letters ReviewPennsylvania-born 18th century painter Benjamin West is the somewhat unlikely narrative focus of Rachel Halliburton\'s eloquent and captivating debut historical novel The Optickal Illusion, West was a friend of Benjamin Franklin and like Franklin largely a self-taught genius, and in 1760 he traveled to Italy in order to refine his artistic technique by studying masters such as Titian. By the time West traveled on to England in 1763, his talents had broadened, and he was intent on making valuable connections before returning to America and establishing a practice there as a working artist.
William T. Vollmann
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorCarbon Ideologies is a 1,200-page book published in two 600-page volumes (No Immediate Danger), (No Good Alternative) of fierce, relentless clarification, studying at exhaustive length modern humanity\'s relationship with non-renewable energy sources like coal, natural gas, oil, and most of all nuclear power ... The whole work is framed in a past-tense conceit in which the world has been ravaged by climate change and humanity has been devastated, a barren, blasted world whose traumatized inhabitants will look back at the late 20th and early 21st century with a combination of confusion and anger ... Two hundred pages of this would ordinarily constitute a dire publishing gamble – 1,200 pages of it should be completely unreadable. And yet, weirdly, the brightness and intelligence of Vollmann\'s own prose, absorbingly readable as always, acts as a kind of ideological counterweight to the gloom of his tidings ... It\'s extremely unlikely that Carbon Ideologies is irrelevant – but it may be premature, at least in part. Vollmann interviews dozens and dozens of people who are caught up in furthering and profiting from non-renewable energy industries, but there are many people in the world – Vollmann talks to some of them – who are every bit as invested in finding solutions before it\'s too late. We can all join the author in grasping at such hopes.
RaveOpen Letters Review...thoroughly, exhaustively annotated ... The novel is a muscular, slightly oily sock to the jaw – it seems about as hospitable to a scholarly annotated edition as a single tweet from Kanye West. It seems, in other words, like precisely the kind of thing Chandler himself would have crafted a quip to deride ... unfailingly interesting ... it\'s mercifully controlled. Ironically, one of the most encouraging things about The Annotated Big Sleep is the amount of blank-page space that\'s free of annotations. It\'s a sure sign of the editors\' understanding that these blank spaces tend to increase in size and frequency as the novel picks up speed.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorHis entirely captivating new book...is surely the most passionate, most detailed, and most readable love-note these dour furry little workaholics will ever get ... He relates the intricacies of their natural history with enormous, happy energy—this is the ultimate start-here book for anybody interested in beavers—and he makes the strongest case yet for the extensive benefits beavers provide for their wider surroundings, far more extensive benefits than are typically attributed to these anti-social little brutes. And through it all, Goldfarb maintains a level of fandom that\'s downright charming. Eager is a fascinating snapshot of the beaver\'s current conservational moment, and it\'s a thought-provoking exploration of the benefits beavers bring to the land.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorFans of The Crown will be fascinated by this deeper dive into the life of the sister who did not become queen ... [an] engrossing book ... Brown\'s book (first published in England as Ma\'am Darling) is the latest in a crammed bookcase full of biographies of Princess Margaret, but it\'s unlike any of them in its approach ... Brown\'s book is the most artful, the most fascinating, and the most damning symphony of those raconteurs ever likely to be composed ... There\'s plenty of delight in Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret as well, but it\'s a very pointed kind of delight, crafted perfectly for the lover of acid deadpan and knowing innuendo.
RaveThe Open Letters ReviewTom Shippey\'s irresistible new book Laughing Shall I Die is a densely-detailed excavation of the lives, battles, and deaths of the towering figures from the Norse sagas and poems ... Shippey\'s inquiries are bracing and vivid; his forensic readings of the sagas and poems are consistently fascinating ... Flinty, argumentative, bristling with energy—Laughing Shall I Die is not only entertaining and challenging … it\'s also the most Viking Viking book we\'ll likely see all year.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewStanton\'s narration of that career is uniformly superb, particularly the way he captures the speed and tension of Marciano\'s battles in the ring ... Here Mike Stanton has told the champ\'s life story in greater detail and with more pleasing complexity than any previous book has done. If there\'s any justice, Stanton will have another bestseller on his hands.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThere were two simultaneous revolutions in sailing unfolding in America in the mid-19th century, and one of them was making frantic newspaper headlines virtually every single day. This was the sudden-feeling and all-consuming race for the sleekest, most advanced \'90-day sailer,\' trim-lined vessels piled high with tall white pyramids of sail, carefully designed to slice through the sea at unprecedented speeds. These were the famous \'clipper ships,\' and they\'re the dream floating before the eyes of all the characters in Steven Ujifusa\'s fast-paced and entrancing new book Barons of the Sea ... A great deal of Barons of the Sea concentrates on the men (and a few remarkable women) who poured their energy, their avarice, their bravery, and their vision into creating vessels of almost unearthly speed and elegance, vessels like Stag Hound, Flying Cloud, Flying Fish, Sovereign of the Seas, Great Republic, Lightning, Champion of the Seas ... It\'s all masterfully done, creating a rich and multi-faceted portrait of an era that\'s too often wrapped in the gauze of romance.
John F Ross
RaveOpen Letters ReviewThe Promise of the Grand Canyon captures the various dramatic characters wonderfully, particularly Powell himself, a fierce, diminutive dynamo who, in his prime, commanded every room he entered. Ross has read Powell\'s writings about the Expedition carefully, and it\'s endlessly interesting to watch those close readings play out ... But The Promise of the Grand Canyon stands out from the other accounts on the Powell bookshelf by emphasizing the ecological ramifications of the Expedition\'s discoveries ... [Ross\' book] reclaims Powell himself for a battle he would almost certainly be waging if he were alive today.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewPolly\'s book is far more than the mere filling-in of a lacuna; this is an intensely engrossing biography ... Polly runs a bright, fast-paced, almost chatty prose line throughout the book, filling his accounts with action and dialogue of a novelistic type ... Underneath its flashy readability (a readability aided by the fact that Lee\'s personal life often showed distinct similarities to his movies – he\'s always ready to fight, physically, with co-stars, directors, purported rivals), Bruce Lee: A Life is grounded on a staggering amount of research ... Every aspect of Lee\'s personal and professional life is laid out in such exacting detail that it scarcely seems possible the book could ever be supplanted as the definitive life. Readers who\'ve been waiting for such a life – and readers who didn\'t know they were – will find Polly\'s book irresistible.
David I. Kertzer
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorKertzer tells this story in greater detail and with more infectious energy than it\'s ever been told in English, and he never loses sight of the crucial larger issues that were at stake when armed mobs stormed the Papal territories ... What the papacy lost in territory it regained ten times over in spiritual authority. The Pope Who Would Be King tells the very human story of this modern rebirth of the papacy, one of the world\'s foremost tales of political survival.
RaveOpen Letters Review\"...a case that McCarthy steadily complicates with a steadier hand than was evident in The Hollow Men, which was slow to reach its proper cruising speed. A Handful of Ashes is a faster, surer book in every way, with major and minor characters fleshed out with economic precision, and the pacing compulsively ratchets up as the book progresses. Even the one plot-thread that at first seems extraneous—the comatose woman Zara—becomes the touchstone for the book\'s absolutely harrowing final scene. With this novel an earnest but fairly standard crime fiction novel at once becomes a seriously impressive series.\
Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
RaveOpen Letters ReviewWritten by journalist and bestselling author (and Navy vet) Lynn Vincent and documentary filmmaker Sara Vladic, Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man is both exhaustive and, as the enormous subtitle hints, crusading ... This is a story that\'s been told in many books, and Vincent and Vladic go at their task with fresh energy and a consistent eye for the macabre ... \'if the ship had not sunk, and Captain McVay had entered port, would he have been court-martialed?” The answer is clearly no, and this book is the most emphatic statement of McVay\'s case ever made.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorMost people who encounter the busiest residents of their suburban gardens or parks wouldn\'t think to encounter them in the world\'s desert places, and yet thousands of the world\'s bee species have adapted to desert living. This versatility is one of the many remarkable features of the enormous bee family, a crowded family tree that gets a loving, infectiously enthusiastic natural history in Thor Hanson\'s new book, Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees ... he explores the long history of these insects...and of course the looming threat of collapsing bee populations all over the world—including in deserts, where, ironically, they may hold out the longest.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor[Crabtree] opens with an important point: India is still an intensely poor country ... readers at the outset of Crabtree\'s book are left with no illusions about the state of the economy underlying this new oligarchy of super-wealth ... In fast-paced evocative prose, Crabtree...describes some of the foremost players in that continuous struggle at the heart of India\'s booming but troubled economy.
PositiveOpen Letters Review...the focus is turned solely on providing Willughby with his very first full-length free-standing biography ... Birkhead\'s The Wonderful Mr. Willughby is probably the best attempt that will ever be made at drawing Willughby out of the shadows ... It\'s a gentle, slightly idiosyncratic biographical performance, one that thankfully makes only understated claims for its hero ... Birkhead has done all the traditional biographer\'s legwork that so few have bothered to do before him. He\'s consulted family records and consulted the family themselves, and he brings back details that add an immediacy to his pages.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorRome: A History in Seven Sackings, tells the story of the Eternal City through a series of chapters on its darkest hours, from despoiling at the hands of the Goths to the twists of its fate during the Nazi years. Kneale briefly sketches the glorious height of the city\'s power and wealth, when it had a million inhabitants, bustling squares, markets, law courts, and entertainment arenas, and then he proceeds to follow it through a long procession of conquests and pillages, reaching a weird low point fairly early in the story when Totila and his Ostrogoths conquer Rome in the 6th century – and command that all its citizens simply leave. \'For the first time in its existence,\' writes Kneale, \'Rome, which a century and a half earlier had been the largest and greatest city on earth … was empty.\'
Diogenes Laertius, Trans. by Pamela Mensch
RaveThe Open Letters ReviewA sustained reading of Diogenes Laertius—and if this magnificent, lavishly-illustrated edition doesn\'t prompt such a reading, nothing will—certainly conveys the impression that he was all the worst of the things that have been said about him over the centuries: a clod, a gossip, and perhaps the person least likely in the whole world to ask the question \'What is philosophy?\' But his book nevertheless survives, and as Mensch\'s shining new translation reinforces, there are very good reasons for this. He\'s never boring. He\'s interested in everything. And—it\'s always a bit of a surprise—he\'s also got a sly, sharp humor about him. Some of his quick asides about some of these characters appear flighty but are in fact merrily merciless, plying one paper-thin cut on top of another until the subject is bled dry ... Lives of the Eminent Philosophers has the loveliest and most formidable English-language rendition it\'s ever received or is likely to receive.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorBy dint of an enormous amount of research, French follows these two men and dozens of their associates through all the twists and turns of their careers, culminating in the last thing either Farren or Riley ever thought would happen: the two of them joining forces to create \'much of the city\'s reputation as an international capital of sin and vice.\' Much like Old Shanghai itself, this story of the rise to power of two opportunistic grifters had a terminus carved in stone from its very start; no matter how many show girls Farren could bully, no matter how many slot machines Riley owned, the old ramshackle den of crime and dissipation was doomed by the larger geopolitical events coming to a broil outside the paper-weak boundaries of the foreign settlements ... Readers seeking that old glamour and style will now have City of Devils to help them.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewHistory professor Matthew Bowman observes in his wise and absorbing new book...that the term \'Christian\' in American history \'always resists collapse into a single definition\' ... In deeply-researched chapters ranging across the whole of American history but concentrating on the last 100 years, Bowman takes readers through an impressively wide-ranging examination of the many roles Christianity has played in society. The major phases of Catholic and Protestant interaction with local and national politics are described in lean, accessible prose (needless to say, a book on this subject could easily be four times the length of the 300 pages it gets here), and the narrative\'s tension always derives from the constant fluctuations of public reaction to the presence of organized religion on the national stage—particularly in the 21st century.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe Immeasurable World can be read in this way, as a series of passionate, eloquent dispatches from the hungry sands. Atkins ... tries to experience them all as directly as possible, raw to the ground, meeting the people and sharing the hardships. In all cases, he\'s acutely aware of the long histories of the places he\'s visiting ... But the principle joy of his book is the immediacy of its portraits; he talks engagingly with all walks of people living in deserts and often fighting for deserts ... Whether or not readers have ever personally experienced any desert regions, they\'ll feel that immediacy in the pages of The Immeasurable World.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorReaders of the Bernie Gunther novels over the years will remember some of the moral grey areas Philip Kerr has described in such absorbing detail, although they won\'t be as hard on the hero as he is on himself ... The novel itself is every bit as powerful and atmospheric and addictively page-turning as all the ones that came before it, but the final pages are extra bittersweet because ... the master\'s hand is now still; mystery lovers have this one last book to savor.
RaveThe National\"In the interests of scholarly sobriety, Jones painted a conservative picture – the better to get practical minds thinking along practical lines. Her hypothetical event involved only a portion of the San Andreas Fault, and it involved the imagining of countless fires and many broken bridges and roads, the interruption of vital services and the medical infrastructure ... The book’s ambit widens to include other disasters in addition to earthquakes ... And as is made clear over and over in The Big Ones, major earthquakes bring two equally devastating calamities in their wake: aftershocks, which can often be powerful earthquakes in their own right, and tsunamis, massive walls of water triggered by seismic upheavals. In ordinary waves, the most active part of the water is the very crest; in tsunamis, the entire mass of the water is moving, often at incredible speeds. This is a major threat for two main reasons: first, an enormous proportion of humanity is vulnerable – cities, farmlands, and, infamously, nuclear power plants, stand on floodplains all over the world – and second, the vast majority of those vulnerable buildings and cities have little in the way of resilient architecture, thoughtful alternative energy and medical services, or evacuation-savvy inhabitants. \'Knowledge of tsunamis has never been more prevalent,\' Jones writes, \'the word tsunami means considerably more to us than it did even twenty years ago.\'\
Kate Andersen Brower
RaveOpen Letters Review\"First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power, the new book by Kate Andersen Brower, is full of fascinating tidbits of information, as was also true of her previous books First Women and particularly The Residence ... As Brower masterfully reconstructs, the office in modern times has faced some momentous turning points, none greater than the one faced by Gerald Ford ... becomes equally clear throughout Brower\'s book that the nature and tenor of the job is entirely dependent on the President at the time. There are strong arguments why this should not be so, but they\'re not a part of this book\'s design. Rather, this is a detailed and deliciously quotable overview, something with a lighter touch and a far more usefully narrow scope than Jules Witcover\'s impressive 2014 book on the same subject. It\'s an engaging run-down of what is in many ways the least-enviable job in America.\
PositiveOpen Letters Review...focuses not just on the very sturdy evergreen mystery the lost colony of Roanoke (which, as he points out, historians and archeologists have for years been patiently pointing out was not actually \'lost\') but also on the origin and growth of the legend itself. ... The story was once a familiar part of any elementary-school American history education: in 1587, the Roanoke colony was found deserted – even the houses and barricades were gone. The only clue was the \'secret token\' of Lawler\'s title, carved into a tree at the settlement site ... Of course The Secret Token won\'t stop or even stall the outlandish speculation about Roanoke\'s fate (space aliens have, inevitably, been dragged into the whole thing many times), but readers who prefer the facts need look no further.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...The people Quart meets are generally clear-eyed about their predicament, \'desperately holding onto their status and trying to keep up appearances\' but privately buried in debt and constantly, corrosively worried about how they\'ll survive another year or another month ... It all adds up to an almost smotheringly bleak picture of an America in which a two-income middle-class household can no longer afford to have children ... it\'s easy to agree with the stunned, exasperated sentiment of everybody in this book: It wasn\'t supposed to be this way.
William T. Vollmann
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThe book insists that humans have already sealed their fate—the narrative speaks to a ruined world arising directly out of rampant global warming and unchecked disasters like Fukushima. Two hundred pages of this would ordinarily constitute a dire publishing gamble—1,200 pages of it should be completely unreadable ... And yet, weirdly, the brightness and intelligence of Vollmann\'s own prose, absorbingly readable as always, acts as a kind of ideological counterweight to the gloom of his tidings. With accounts such as this, the reader desperately wants to think, surely all is not lost? ... there are many people in the world—Vollmann talks to some of them—who are every bit as invested in finding solutions before it\'s too late. We can all join the author in grasping at such hopes.
Positive- Open Letters ReviewYoung fleshes out observations like these with oddly practical points designed to undermine modern assumptions many people have about the alleged efficiency of “intensive” farming. The simplest truth she relates is one known to farmers for thousands of years: the happier animals are, the healthier they are … But the main thrust of The Secret Life of Cows is that there aren\'t any secrets, only obvious truths that are deeply uncomfortable for humans who\'ve grown comfortable in the flow of the modern meat-production industry. ‘Bovine needs are in many respects the same as human ones: freedom from stress, adequate shelter, pure food and water, liberty to exercise, to wander about, to go for a walk or just to stand and stare…remove the qualifiers, and the truth remains unchanged: these animals are people, not commodities’.
RaveOpen Letters Review\"At first glance, award-winning and beloved novelist Penelope Lively\'s new book Life in the Garden looks depressingly predictable: a slim hobby-memoir filled with jostling canned quotes about gardening, the kind of thing distracted novelists have been knocking together and tossing off with their left hands for centuries. Instead of that sort of thing, Lively here has written a quiet little masterpiece, a winding, turning memoir of a long lifetime spent gardening and the intertwining of all that gardening with the reading and writing that has likewise been her life\'s passion. All the expected potted (no pun intended) sections are here – the garden through history, gardening tastes and peculiarities in various eras, famous gardeners and gardening manuals and gurus, gardening in literature, all the usual suspects – but they\'re animated by Lively\'s wise, slow, novelist touches in a way such book virtually never are (she mentions one such success, Jenny Uglow\'s A Little History of British Gardening, and then easily surpasses it) ... It goes without saying that all avid gardeners will treasure this book, but even readers who\'ve never grown so much as a weed will love this performance too, the literary equivalent of listening to your most literate friend collect her thoughts about the most unassuming of her life\'s passions.\
RaveOpen Letters ReviewBooks on this subject almost always display a maddening combination of condescension and inaccuracy...and Jameson avoids it so completely that he defuses even the anxiety of waiting for it; you follow him into a discussion of TV superheroes or Frank Miller\'s Dark Knight Returns eagerly wanting to know what he thinks rather than nervously waiting for him to make some basic mistake. Jameson\'s portrait of that broader social context is uniformly fascinating ... It\'s unclear to me how far I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing will convert any holdout members of that embattled remnant of the mainstream—but oh, how it will delight the faithful!
Stuart E. Eizenstat
RaveOpen Letters Review\"... Eizenstat delivers not only an exception but a stunning one: by far the best account of the Carter White House that\'s ever been written ... He was not only a careful note-taker, but he\'s also a conscientious researcher; his copious notes include extensive use of contemporary news accounts, wide-ranging use of contemporary memoirs (including, of course, those of the Boss), and, best and most skillfully-marshaled of all, interviews with all of the key players about all of the key events. Every future history of the Carter administration will find Eizenstat\'s book invaluable ... This is surely the last of the first-hand histories of the Carter White House, and thanks to Eizenstat\'s skill and mammoth industry, it\'s also a landmark in how such histories should be written.\
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorIt\'s a comment on the currency of data ... a brightly readable, cinematic tour through the seismic changes currently altering the face and the very nature of the marketing and advertising professions ... all these wheeling and dealing men and women come alive like characters in a novel ... Auletta has this formula down to a science, although in a book as data-heavy as Frenemies the formula sometimes feels like a distraction from the main subject; less color and more data might have been the wiser course for this kind of topic. But Frenemies is nevertheless the most vivid account to date of what may be the most crucial moment in advertising history— the moment when data went from servant to master.
RaveOpen Letters Review...it\'s an extremely engaging narrative from start to finish. Rumsfeld credits a great many helpers in his Acknowledgments, but the final product not only reads smoothly but also reads with Rumsfeld\'s voice ... Rumsfeld seems to have been everywhere at all times, and as a result his book brims with colorful character studies ... When the Center Held is designed to be a celebration, and it is certainly that ... a personal, detailed look inside one of the least-studied most-important presidencies of the modern era.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewHistorian Edith Sheffer\'s intensely fascinating new book, Asperger\'s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna, turns the focus onto Hans Asperger himself in a clearly landmark English-language biography. Sheffer prodigiously researches the shape of Asperger\'s mind and career as it appears in historical records ... Sheffer brings to this typical picture exactly the kind of calm deliberation that does it the most justice; she\'s aware throughout of the personal variables involved ... The book sketches in Asperger\'s life in swift, evocative installments that bring him rapidly to the ideological crucible of his life ... Sheffer does a quietly excellent job of capturing the criminal schizophrenia that infused the thinking of Asperger\'s Nazi peers and Asperger himself ... It\'s unnerving, necessary reading.
Alan Stern and David Grinspoon
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorPluto, now downgraded to the status of a dwarf planet, is billions of miles away from Earth, a fraction of Earth\'s mass, receives a sliver of Earth\'s sunlight, and is almost inconceivably cold. The chances that humans will ever establish a base there are correspondingly minuscule ... Stern and Grinspoon concentrate on the heroism of learning, specifically the dogged, day-to-day heroism of the men and women behind the New Horizons spacecraft that in July of 2015 made the first-ever close fly-by of tiny frozen Pluto and sent back large amounts of invaluable data to the specialists who had nervously watched the crafts progress for years.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewSlade tells this sad story with enormous energy and quotable inventiveness. Her long experience as a journalist shows on every page of her account, with her prose bringing every aspect of the El Faro saga to colorful life. Her descriptions of the natural world of the scenario are uniformly fantastic.
James F. Simon
RaveOpen Letters Review\"Legal historian James Simon adds to his shelf of first-rate books with his latest, Eisenhower vs Warren: The Battle for Civil Rights and Liberties, a detailed, fine-grained study of the tense relationship between President Eisenhower and his most famous appointee, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren ... In most of Simon\'s earlier works studying the relationship between the Executive and the Judiciary, the Presidents in question tend to come across as the lesser creatures – but not in this case. Mixed signals on Brown vs the Board of Education notwithstanding, this is Ike\'s book from first to last.\
RaveOpen Letters ReviewThe main strength of Young Washington derives from how often its author is willing to wander away from young Washington. The years of Washington\'s young manhood – spent as a lower-rung member of Virginia\'s landed gentry and trekking in the Ohio Valley wilderness – coincided with (and in their own way exacerbated) the rising tensions between the great powers of England and France. Stark captures those rising tensions with a dramatic tension that strengthens from chapter to chapter, helped along by generous helpings of colorful scene-setting ... the whole performance is further elevated by the more-or-less even-handed way he deals with his title character. George Washington in his twenties and early thirties was a moody, morose prig who towered over his men but did not inspire them, a tirelessly loyal and hard-working officer who perfectly served his superiors but never pleased them, and those realities, plainly visible in dispatches and letters and memoirs, is often unpalatable to historians and biographers intent on presenting a marble hero to their readers. Stark doesn\'t seem to have that intent, or at least not much of it; rather, he concentrates on how transforming the experiences of these decades would be on Washington.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThe Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs abounds with this completely winning blend of technical expertise and storytelling ability ... Brusatte\'s recounting of the millions of years of dinosaur dominance makes for very nerdy, very thrilling reading.
Mary Kay Andrews
RaveOpen Letters ReviewAt a glance, the cover promises most of the things Andrews is an old hand at delivering: inviting dialogue, beautiful settings, low-stakes drama, and happy endings. It\'s no bratty spoiler to assure readers that The High Tide Club has all of these things. The real revelation here is that it has considerably more ... Andrews shuttles her narration back and forth in time, steadily increasing the tension as the mysteries of one era reinforce and amplify the mysteries of the other. This active play of time in the narrative steadily introduces a deeper and more bittersweet element into The High Tide Club than this author has ever risked in one of her sunny summer books ... The High Tide Club works in a murder, an old and long-simmering savage crime, high-stakes personal revelations deployed late in the story to keep things bubbling along, a touch of legal drama, and even some romance rendered with mercifully understated realism.
MixedThe Christian Science Monitor\"The problem here is immediately obvious: catch-all \'futurist\' label notwithstanding, a theoretical physicist is no more specially qualified to speculate about things like advanced AI or human genetic manipulation than is any teenage science nerd uploading videos to YouTube. There are points in The Future of Humanity where this is unavoidably obvious, and it hurts the book ... His more elaborate speculations in the book\'s closing chapters are at least connected with Kaku\'s area of technical expertise, albeit completely unmoored from reality. Fortunately, by this point in his career, Kaku is a practiced and very effective popularizer of science for a general audience; he\'s unfailingly interesting, with an unerring instinct for the most thought-provoking aspects of his various subjects. The sheer amount of technical scientific speculation in The Future of Humanity is amazing, and yet Kaku is in smooth, perfect control of it the entire time.\
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor\"Holt\'s book is much closer to a series of dispatches about the larger scientific world Einstein and Gödel inhabited ... they all wonderfully achieve Holt\'s stated goal: \'to enlighten the newcomer while providing a novel twist that will please the expert.\' This is considerably more difficult than it sounds, and Holt does a beautifully readable job ... Perhaps to the dismay of his lay readers, \'beautiful\' is a word that crops up frequently in these pieces, usually connected with…math ... Even at the hands of an expert popularizer like Holt, that beauty can be elusive, probably for simply biological reasons ... Science writing of the caliber on display in When Einstein Walked with Gödel is a boon in these times of looming scientific illiteracy. Holt makes his recondite subjects seem not only fascinating but fun, humanity\'s greatest intellectual adventure – and one that badly needs as many adventurers as it can get.\
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...the book asks sharp questions about the ways William Shakespeare interrogates the idea of political authority in his plays ... Greenblatt very effectively conveys the deep, wrenching anxiety this kind of shift produced and the fundamental questions it could raise, in Shakespeare\'s day and in all other eras. \'Why, in some circumstances, does evidence of mendacity, crudeness, or cruelty serve not as a fatal disadvantage but as an allure, attracting ardent followers?\' he asks ... Shakespeare lived five centuries ago, yet Greenblatt\'s book has the feel of a series of urgent and very contemporary dispatches.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorWinchester is a champion humanizer; it\'s the foremost of his many writing skills. He sifts through the historical record, builds impressive bibliographies, and then crafts it all into three-dimensional characters ... Winchester carefully and entertainingly furthers his story from mechanics to precision to hyper-precision of the kind that, for example, led to the great line of Leica lenses prized by photographers for decades ... The story Winchester tells is one of steady, almost inexorably increasing complexity, and this can make the book\'s later sections heavier going for the lay reader ... It\'s a testament to Winchester\'s narrative skill, honed over two dozen books, that he makes even the most arcane of technical specifics smoothly comprehensible in context ... The Perfectionists is at heart an account of the unsung heroes of our modern world.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorTargoff evocatively conveys the colorful, dramatic Renaissance world of Vittoria Colonna, in large part by quoting from Colonna herself ... a multifaceted picture of some of the ways women have moved the levers of history...
RaveOpen Letters Review...true to its title, this is not a quiet book. It's insistent, untidy, and enormously personal. Self works swingingly right in the middle of his chosen modernist territory: his book is a relentless torrent pouring over the reader without any break – no pauses, no paragraphs, no chapters, scarcely an in-drawn breath for its entire length, always with loudly insistent thoughts roaring under the thin attempts at thin surface narration ... Such a novel as Phone requires an extensive, almost punitive amount of work from its readers. But even more so than its two predecessors, Phone is worth the struggle. The book is, in addition to all its stylistic pyrotechnics, a magnificent portrait of fragility, the best thing Will Self has ever written.
PositiveOpen Letter ReviewSusan Jacoby, author of such brilliant, skeptical books as Strange Gods, The Great Agnostic, and Freethinkers, is a die-hard baseball fan, which is probably why she considers it acceptable to give her latest book, Why Baseball Matters, a presupposition right there in the title, before a single word of special pleading or witness-leading has commenced ... in a marked tone-shift, Jacoby is here preaching to the converted ... Nevertheless, Jacoby is courageous enough to address the wheezing, sclerotic elephant in the room: how boring baseball is ... The real title of Why Baseball Matters might well be How Baseball Survives.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor\"McNamara\'s groundbreakingly researched life of Eunice Kennedy ranks as a standout performance for the entire season of biography. The book succeeds in throwing a clear spotlight on this tremendously important pillar of the powerful Kennedy family ... It\'s a superb job of biography.\
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorEventually, Scheinman begins to worry he's a bit of a fraud, someone who's given a pass because he fills out a pair of breeches ... But his tone throughout the book is anything but melancholy; his depiction of 'Austenworld' glows with affection and insight, and his asides about the Austen canon itself are uniformly thought-provoking. Camp Austen may not prompt most readers to don their best topcoats and taffeta, but it will certainly send them hurrying back to the novels, to savor again what Scheinman refers to as a world displaced in time.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewRosen does a wonderfully sensitive job shading the nuance back into the picture in ways that almost can't help but reflect the current moment in American presidential politics ... The series is always at its best when the biographers do what Rosen does here: survey the pertinent literature and then liberally fill the resulting book with judgement calls, buttressed opinions, and rich synthesis. It's sadly likely that most readers coming to this brief biography will know next to nothing about Taft the President and nothing at all about Taft the Chief Justice, and it's refreshing that Rosen is equally strong on both periods – and their connections ... This book won't take the place of an enormous full-dress biography of Taft, but that's never the goal in a series of this kind. In crafting a spirited, informed precis of a remarkable life, Rosen has done an excellent job.
Todd S. Purdum
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe deepest fascination of Purdum\'s highly detailed account is the confident way it fleshes out the real people behind these stellar triumphs. Both Rodgers and Hammerstein could be prickly, brooding perfectionists; both dealt with depression, and Rodgers (the lesser liked of the two, generally) struggled with alcoholism his entire life ... \'It is difficult to describe the inner melodic and mathematical workings of music in mere words,\' Purdum writes at one point, and yet he does a fine job, drawing readers into the spirited, gossipy world of Broadway theatrical productions – a world Rodgers and Hammerstein so drastically re-shaped that, as Purdum convincingly describes, it\'s borne their imprint ever since ... Todd Purdum has given readers the most elaborate and entertaining exploration of that magic they\'re ever likely to read.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewAnd yet, reality works. And this apparent contradiction is at the heart of Becker's book, which takes readers through all of these epic discoveries and disagreements, always with the subject's deepest questions (like the book's title) foremost in view ... Books like What Is Real? live or die by the companionability of the author, and in this case Becker is a perfect choice to make sense of it all (or at least whatever sense is possible). He smoothly, easily dramatizes the great debates and the outsized personalities of quantum physics and fits it all into an enthusiastic, readable narrative, and along the way he digresses wonderfully on a wide variety of scientific phenomena. About the creation of thermite, for instance, he first warns his readers not to try this particular creation themselves (just in case the possibility of self immolation wasn't warning enough) and then describes it with a nifty brevity.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor\"Abouzeid relates the drama of this chaos in gripping prose ... The subtitle of No Turning Back offers life, loss … and also hope. But Abouzeid herself makes the case for optimism very faint ... Even Abouzeid, clinging tenaciously to a brighter future for Syria, admits that there isn\'t much hope for such an outcome. Any such hope, the reader is left to infer, will come from people like the ones living their lives in this book.\
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorFisherman's Blues is a colorful and affecting portrait of an entire way of life, but it's also a report from the front lines of a small industry in the twilight of a struggle it never thought it would even face, much less lose ... There isn't any realistic light at the end of the story Badkhen tells. But readers can still be grateful for this graceful, perceptive account. Badkhen captures a way of life that certainly won't survive the century, and although the men, women, and children of Joal will lose the sea, readers will have the small comfort of visiting their world in the pages of this book.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor\"\'All biography is storytelling,\' Thompson observes, and the story she tells so expertly in these pages ends in absolutely stratospheric success, culminating with Christie’s 80th birthday in 1970.\
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorSachdeva\'s stories almost seem to revel in their diversity; the book has surprises on virtually every page and touches on a host of philosophical and technological questions that feature both in the treatises Milton read (and wrote) and today\'s headlines. Science fiction has always been at its strongest when working exactly this kind of combination, and Sachdeva\'s first attempts at it are remarkable.
RaveOpen Letters ReviewPatrick Nathan's debut novel Some Hell is as sharp and merciless a coming-of-age story as has yet to appear in 2018, and it also feels like something of a remedy, a quick restorative after a few too many pale, saccharine versions of itself ... It avoids easy answers, cheap sentimentality, and especially the thinly-described cynical voyeurism that's been characterizing far too much gay fiction in recent years. It has the unevenness that's more or less a defining feature of debut fiction, but its strengths are impressive.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorBurke tells her story through the viewpoints of generations of human settlers, and this plays to one of her obvious strengths as a writer: the sharp, evocative delineation of believable characters ... The book is tremendously enjoyable – and also the announcement of an impressive new talent.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor[Adam Nicolson] is one of the publishing world's most reliably entertaining polymaths, and in this latest book, he turns his attention to the 350 bird species...that have colonized the windswept coastlines, raw rock outcrops, and open oceans of the planet ... throughout The Seabird's Cry, Nicolson regularly offers a narrative counterpoint to that hard world. He travels to the places where these strangest of all birds make their homes, and he does what all the best natural history writers do: he conveys to his readers the immediacy of these creatures.
Joel Richard Paul
MixedThe Christian Science Monitor\"[Paul] brings to Marshall\'s career exactly the kind of perspective that a legal scholar can best provide – and that\'s often needed, especially considering the sheer amount of legend that\'s grown up around Marshall the legal titan … This kind of skepticism is refreshing because it\'s so rare; Marshall tends to prompt the same kind of hagiography that\'s lavished on most of the Founding Fathers. And even as tough a biographer as Paul yields to the temptation – unfortunately, on the subject that least deserves it: slavery … The narrative of Without Precedent picks up momentum when relating the turbulent legal and political infighting of the Chief Justice years.\
Jeffrey C. Stewart
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor\"In describing Locke\'s life as a black man, a thinker and fighter in social causes, and a homosexual, Stewart, professor of black studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara, must in a way describe many different Alain Lockes. That such a gripping and cohesive narrative could be forged out of such fractured material is no mean accomplishment ... Stewart\'s literary analysis of this movement and its many works, offshoots, and descendants is unerringly sharp and interesting, and he refreshingly includes as much that speaks against his subject as speaks for him ... Jeffrey Stewart has written the definitive study that life has always warranted – and, fittingly, he\'s made it excellent reading in the process.\
David N. Schwartz
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe title of David Schwartz's new biography of the great physicist Enrico Fermi, The Last Man Who Knew Everything, requires instantaneous clarification, and Schwartz provides it: about physics ...Schwartz's account is one of the most detailed and sympathetic lives of Fermi to appear in recent memory... Fortunately, Schwartz doesn't hang his estimation of Fermi on any such kind of exoneration. Rather, he gives readers a rounded picture of the man. Fermi comes across in these pages as a mercurial figure, toweringly brilliant in his field and often curiously magnetic with friends and colleagues ... The Last Man Who Knew Everything manages the neat double trick of making both Fermi and his abstruse work accessible to readers living in the world he did so much to create, for good and ill.
Chandler Klang Smith
RaveOpen Letters ReviewThat plot swoops and glides all over the landscape; the sheer ambit of topics Smith pulls in to her larger narrative is astonishingly varied, ranging from radical income inequality to outsized parodies of today's celebrity culture to social commentary on cults and religions – and all of it punctuated with scenes of almost granular detail, small moments of deep-detail cinematic close-ups ... The Sky is Yours is a debut of prodigious, almost throwaway inventiveness and storytelling enthusiasm, setting an extremely high bar for the rest of 2018's science fiction. It's the bravura announcement of a major new literary voice.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorGiven his penchant for historical fiction and his freakish productivity – this is his 54th novel – it was only a matter of time until bestselling writer Bernard Cornwell got around to Shakespeare, and in his new book Fools and Mortals, he does just that…but it's not playwright William but his younger brother Richard who's the star of the story ... He thinks of Richard, with some justification, as a strutting, whining fool, but even allowing for sibling rivalry, William isn't exactly overflowing with the milk of human kindness himself...this is a Shakespeare who's often cruel but never kind ... Cornwell has had a vast amount of experience at working his exposition smoothly into his narrative, and all that experience pays off in Fools and Mortals: as in all the best historical fiction, readers will come away with a seminar's-worth of historical knowledge without feeling like they did any heavy lifting.
Stefan Merrill Block
RaveOpen Letters ReviewOliver Loving, the quirky, smart, awkward, immediately likable 17-year-old main character in Stefan Merrill Block's new novel Oliver Loving, occupies the center of the book like a black hole, an absence that's also a presence, a gravitational pull so strong it swallows light and bends time ... Block's narration of all this chaos and torment is unbearably intimate – it's empathetic but completely unsparing ...not only before the shooting, when his [Oliver's] imagination and poetry filled him with hopes he could scarcely even name, but after the shooting, when Block takes readers into the world of somebody who's as completely trapped as anybody could possibly be ... A basic plot this emotionally top-heavy could scarcely help but feel manipulative, but aside from the experimental neurological procedure that features in the novel's final act, Block virtually never indulges in the exaggeration that's at the heart of cheap theater. And even when taking his characters through that one last wrench to their already-tortured hopes, Block keeps things both honest and surprising.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe unexpected scene-stealer of Munich is exactly the right person: Chamberlain himself, with his bushy grey eyebrows and his ‘hawk's-beak nose tilted up in defiance.’ The Chamberlain Harris gives his readers is not the vain, weak bogeyman of appeasement who can be found in most novels and histories of the period but rather a convincingly complex and driven patriot trying to navigate between unthinkable alternatives … Robert Harris gives the events their best fictional treatment yet.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...remarkably interesting ... The Square and the Tower gains in fascination as it tells these kinds of stories, always surprising and always thought-provoking in the places and entities it chooses to pause and examine, everything from the Mafia to the Soviet Union of Stalin ... Ferguson's book ranges with this kind of easy confidence over broad stretches of history, and although there's occasional overreaching, The Square and the Tower does an effective job of laying the groundwork for nothing less than a parallel accounting of power since the Enlightenment ... in addition to being provocative history, may prove to be a bellwether work of the Internet Age.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorMore emblematic of this intense struggle than any other city is the beautiful, atmospheric place now known as Istanbul, the subject of the terrifically rewarding new book by Bettany Hughes, Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities... As its title implies, Istanbul: A Tale of Three Cities looks at this storied place through the eras of its three distinct identities... Hughes concentrates her account on major personalities and what she refers to as 'game-changing events'... In sure, gripping prose, the story moves steadily forward through violent clashes between Christian and Turkish forces vying for this city... Readers are taken through the dramatic high points of these clashes and all the city's later phases... It's a spellbinding performance from start to finish ...her presented bibliography is enormous, but always the narrative itself is infused with an obvious love for the city that Hughes first visited when she was 18.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThey [John Adams and Thomas Jefferson] were followed in office by slight, soft-spoken James Madison, the subject of Noah Feldman's big, groundbreaking new book The Three Lives of James Madison, which studies all the aspects of Madison's complicated public career, as both the main author of the Constitution to the country's first wartime president to the co-founder of the Democratic-Republican Party. Feldman is too lenient on Madison the slave-owner, but he's uniformly excellent on Madison the political creature, which can't help but resonate with the present day.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorThe Road Not Taken is comprehensively researched and insightfully written – Boot is, as always, an extremely talented writer – and it implicitly believes whole-heartedly in that X Factor, and in 'Lansdalism' as a foreign policy. Boot made extensive use of previously untapped material provided by Lansdale's family, and perhaps not unconnectedly, his book about Lansdale dismisses even the notion of, for instance, death squads and orchestrated campaigns of terror for terror's sake ... Readers of the Pentagon Papers might come to a less qualified verdict about how dirty Lansdale's hands were in Vietnam and elsewhere. Boot's book isn't strictly hagiography; he can sometimes be as tough a critic of Lansdale as many of Lansdale's contemporary critics were – the word 'delusion' makes more than one appearance. But The Road Not Taken makes no secret of its belief in its hero and his faith in the importance of 'hearts and minds.'”
RaveOpen Letters Review...Harkaway\'s new novel Gnomon has both its feet planted firmly in the fantastic – this is a big, bristlingly detailed science fiction fantasia whose plots thread and fold back upon themselves and communicate with each other like computer algorithms, if algorithms intended to mystify and captivate instead of misunderstand and hamper ... Gnomon exults in its complications and imbrications; this is exactly the kind of hyperstimulated ambitious tome that can so often buck its authors off somewhere in the second act, and yet Harkaway keeps the whole thing under perfect – and often maddening – control right to the shock revelations of the final pages ...is very much worth the effort: in its fierce intelligence and surprisingly gentle humanity, it\'s easily Harkaway\'s most impressive work to date.
Barbara Ehrlich White
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorRenoir the happy family man is clearly visible in the warm, domestic tones of so many of his paintings, and yet White describes in great detail the second life he kept from his wife Aline, the life he led with his mistress Lise and their daughter. The smiling, accommodating Renoir is everywhere in these pages, but so too is the ‘wheeler-dealer, manipulative and self-serving character’ White carefully constructs from letters and accounts of friends … The Renoir portrayed here is a generous, cheerful man but also a furtive and sometimes duplicitous one, a painter of genius who often churned out hackwork, a loving husband who constantly worried his wife would find out about the systematic lies he'd been telling her for years. It's a Renoir scarcely hinted at in the sunny swirl of his paintings – and all the more fascinating for that.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorKix follows the story through every stage of his hero's acquisitions of the unusual skills with which he would prosecute his war against the Nazis … Kix takes the reader from adventure to adventure, and all of it is narrated with a curiously effective combination of historical perspective and fictional thriller dramatics … Kix's account begins and ends with glimpses of that much older man, recalling the unspoken code of bravery that guided him and his comrades during the Resistance. The reminder that The Saboteur is at heart a hero's tale is very refreshing.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorO'Donnell isn't interested in pat, received narratives or easy answers to complex questions. This makes him an ideal narrator for the events of 1968, which run together to form a kind of nightmare scenario for the American psyche ... O'Donnell draws moving portraits of all the major figures ... O'Donnell shines a sharp light on the year that may well have been the key fracture point, the moment when the path diverged. Even if our present political world didn't feel so apocalyptic, the book would still be essential reading.
RaveOpen Letters MonthlyThe destination was Fairfield County, Connecticut, the main location of Cullen Murphy’s fantastic new book Cartoon County: My Father and His Friends in the Golden Age of Make-Believe ... In the pages of this book, and in its generous bounty of illustrations, the world of cartooning in the 1950s and ’60s is brought energetically to life, and its men and women laugh and sweat and hustle and goof off ...richly dramatized pictures of this strangely concentrated community...in its own way every bit as gripping an adventure as any of the cartoon adventures created by its many subjects. It recounts in lively detail the great heyday of the American cartooning industry and peoples.
Edward L. Ayers
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...constructs an extended, elegant study of rifts, of chasms, beginning with a spectacular rift in the Earth itself: the Great Appalachian Valley...forming the chasm between the two counties that serve as Ayers' focus in this book, Augusta County in Virginia and Franklin County in Pennsylvania ...wise decision to anchor the sweep of his historical narrative in a small cast of ordinary people trooping in and out of his two counties...book kicks off with that doomed invasion of Pennsylvania and extends through the end of the war and the miseries of Reconstruction to 1870 and the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment ... It's through these individual stories that Ayers's book achieves its most gripping reading stretches... The Thin Light of Freedom gathers the stories of all these different aspects of the war's final years and transmutes them into a dark and oddly uplifting tale of the forging of modern America ...a necessary addition to Civil War libraries.
PositiveOpen Letters MonthlyThis is a Joseph Conrad biography every bit as strange and ranging and confessional as Conrad himself, following him from his birth in 1857 in what was then the Russian Empire, through his adventures on sea and land... Jasanoff isn’t intent on enlisting Conrad in any 21st century concept of globalism, but in the course of the journey of her book, she does contemplate the idea that he might have helped to create that concept...almost as much travelogue as literary biography...what makes this the most engaging Conrad biography yet written: readers come to know him ...she tends to look at the most famous of Conrad’s books at least as much from the outside as the inside, giving readers the texts as they were encountered by other readers.
PositiveThe Open Letters Monthly...Adults in the Room, the lengthy memoir by former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, is boisterously, engrossingly enjoyable from start to finish, despite often needing to unburden itself to its readers on the arcana of international finance and the fine-grain details of Greek governmental meetings ...after only a dozen pages or so, every reader will have realized that there’s a third possible description of the book: a Hero’s Tale, told by Himself ...his descriptions of the fascinating folk – among whom certainly count all the big names and national leaders who populate his pages – are equally energetic, especially the not-exactly-rare intervals in which he’s discussing himself...it’s just about the last thing you’d expect when you open a lengthy memoir by a former finance minister: a cracking good adventure story.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorDallek wants to ground his book firmly in reality rather than hero-worship – hence his encouraging subtitle, A Political Life. He believes that FDR was a born politician of ferocious and very nearly infallible instincts, and through a combination of extensive research and first-rate storyteller's gifts, he makes the reader believe it, too ... Dallek relates in fine and compelling detail all the thorniest scandals of the FDR years ... But far more prominent than scandal in these pages – and far more welcome – are Dallek's frequent examinations of the now-forgotten political opposition FDR faced at every stage of his long tenure as president ... In odd but very appreciable ways, Dallek's nuts-and-bolts 'political life,' seeking the real man underneath all the familiar accolades, somehow manages to re-affirm that greatness. We see FDR afresh, which is an amazing feat in its own right.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorIn a pattern that will hold steady throughout the novel, Fitch sketches a portrait of this glittering, happy world that's rendered all the more vivid for being brief. In a handful of pages, revolutionary passions have found Marina and Varvara, sweeping them into the mass movements beginning to ripple across the country … This is Fitch's most powerful narrative, beautifully and propulsively written, dense with atmosphere and poetics … Every twist and turn of that civil war touches on Marina's life (or Varvara's, or Volya's) in some way or other as the book progresses, and although a fair number of these correspondences feel contrived, and although Marina in all her bathos is never half so interesting a character as supporting player Varvara, Fitch is nonetheless in fine, epic form in these pages.
Alexander Söderberg, Trans. by Neil Smith
PositiveThe Washington PostSoderberg, a former screenwriter from Sweden, has crafted his novel — the first in a projected trilogy — in a way that will be familiar to readers of the late Stieg Larsson: The ordinary meets the outre; mayhem ensues ...people — cops and gangsters — are all crooked, all mildly befuddled by Sophie’s inherent morality ... Soderberg has messily overpopulated his narrative with characters who are difficult to tell apart, and some of his dialogue strains for tough-guy cadence ...puts his cinematic background to good use, creating one tense scene after another and jump-cutting all the way to a climax that’s as bloody as something out of Njals Saga.
PositiveOpen Letters Monthly...granted access to the Foundation’s enormous tranche of Calder letters, papers, photos, sketches, and ephemera without which only a very thin and strained biography could possibly be written ... Perl is a fine writer on art and artists, and in this big book he demonstrates also a tremendous effectiveness at describing the broader world into which Calder was born in 1898 and the eccentric nature of his family, which was full of artists and strong-willed iconoclasts...he nevertheless works hard to make his readers like and admire Calder in these pages, following him through childhood, schooling, and into his burgeoning career as an avant-garde artist... Readers are told that Calder 'had a way of absorbing everything that was going on around him,' although those readers will search the whole length and breadth of the book’s 600 pages for any hint that this was ever even slightly true, and they won’t get many supporting indications even from Perl himself... Fans of this artist’s work have been waiting for volumes like these for decades, and they’re the ones who’ll most appreciate the portrait Perl creates.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorIn long stretches of evocative prose that serve in part to illustrate the author's own love of the place, Wallace brings this 'magnificent profusion of traffic' to life in all its moving parts, showing readers the chaos of moving up the Narrows into the Upper Bay at the turn of the 20th century ... Thousands of builders and strivers and shirkers and connivers hustle through Wallace's pages, some pausing for only a paragraph, others staying for a few pages. The effect of all this as a reading experience is uncannily akin to living in a big, buzzing city ... Wallace covers everything in this immense and compulsively readable volume: art, architecture, music, politics, finance, theater, civil rights, and, as this part of his story winds down, the odd effects of World War I on the city. The resulting mosaic is as loud and boisterous as the city it describes, a city pushing and lunging and rushing into a new century it fully intended to dominate.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...Bob Berman, for instance, takes a jaunty, conversational approach in his new book Zapped: From Infrared to X-rays, the Curious History of Invisible Light, telling his readers right at the start that they are surrounded by his subject ...tells readers the history of science's discovery of such things as gamma rays, cosmic rays, and ultraviolet rays, and he's an unfailingly congenial explainer, always ready with the kinds of fascinating facts his readers might have missed in school.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorReaders of Applebaum's earlier books, including both Gulag and Iron Curtain, will know to expect her pointedly effective alternating between large-scale history and personal stories, and they won't be disappointed. In Red Famine, she makes use of government reports, letters, and even a generous amount of poetry in order to convey the human dimensions of this catastrophe ... Applebaum gives a chorus of contemporary voices to the tale, and her book is written in the light of later history, with the fate of Ukraine once again in the international spotlight and Ukrainians realizing with newly-relevant intensity that, as Red Famine reminds us, 'History offers hope as well as tragedy.'
RaveOpen Letters MonthlyGrant, it turns out, is a rock-solid thousand-page triumph of the biographer’s art. Chernow approaches his famous subject in the only way that guarantees worthwhile results: after conducting an enormous amount of research, he then writes Grant’s life as if nobody had ever done it before ...multi-faceted story is tackled afresh, its sources sifted and interrogated with no presumed conclusions ...terrific book...Chernow is sternly objective with his subject in exactly the way Grant always was with himself, and it results in an extended portrait that’s both tougher and more human than any one-volume biography of this famous figure has yet been ...enormously enjoyable to read and often generously thought-provoking, particularly in its account of Grant’s controversial years as President.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorIn a way, Alone comes to readers as a kind of Oscar project in its own right. It's blurbed by Larry McMurtry, David McCullough, and Henry Kissinger; it's lavishly illustrated; and Korda grounds its familiar story with his childhood memories of wartime tensions and radio broadcasts. This memoir framing-device gives Korda a measure of dramatic license, and he uses it to good effect. Alone is relentlessly involving reading, full of masterfully-drawn set pieces ... It's a neatly-trimmed story, a proud island holding on against a rising tide of darkness, fighting alone until either defeat or longed-for help arrives. Korda, the prolific biographer and author of an account of the Battle of Britain, knows perfectly well this is at best very partial history; but Korda, the son and nephew of movie-makers, likewise knows it's very good theater.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...the most inviting and completely spellbinding book this author has ever written, surpassing his bestselling The Boy in the Striped Pajamas for spear-tip pathos, surpassing his immensely powerful The Absolutist for its historical vividness, and surpassing 2014's A History of Loneliness for its X-ray-accurate Irishness. And The Heart's Invisible Furies is also funny: Despite the darkness of its various time periods and subject matters, it's shot through with a drab, cutting humor that could have stepped unchanged out of the pages of Flann O'Brien. The combination can be disorienting, and this is clearly a big part of the author's goal; there are many scenes in this book that are simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorDraft No. 4 is as lean and punchy a book as anything McPhee wrote in his thirties ... But there's plenty of fuzziness in Draft No. 4, and those readers will be glad of it. The book's ostensible focus of imparting the wisdom accumulated over a lifetime of writing blurs often and very enjoyably with reminiscences about McPhee's own long apprenticeship in the craft; readers are treated to many digressions about the crafting of journalistic pieces that would later become prize-winning books ... The star attraction here isn't the method but the man; readers who go in knowing that will be endlessly fascinated – and may learn a good deal.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...a well-oiled and smoothly captivating performance from start to finish, sure to be as beloved as Paris to the Moon but feeling even more personal and involving ... It's a memoir that contains not a few cautions about writing, reading, or believing memoirs, which is a rhetorical judo move only a writer of Gopnik's skill could perform ... The writer's job, he tells his readers, is to find right words, even beautiful words. In this he himself certainly succeeds. At the Strangers' Gate brings a whole decade vividly back to life.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...facinating ... Although it's probably not his intention, much of what Tegmark writes will quietly terrify his readers. He spins scenarios in which the technology on which humans depend consults those humans less and less, preferring instead to learn, adapt, and innovate on its own – building security systems, national power grids, and medical and financial information networks, all using algorithms to change and grow, often in unpredictable ways that don't mirror humanity's own developmental path.
John Le Carré
MixedThe Christian Science Monitor...it should be stressed for newcomers to this fantastic, paradigm-setting author that they need not be exhaustively familiar with all his earlier spy novels in order to read and enjoy A Legacy of Spies ... the premise of A Legacy of Spies is as elegant and simple as a hydrogen molecule; it allows fans of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to revisit those beloved novels from a gripping new perspective without feeling the guilt of lazy nostalgia...readers are never allowed to think of Guillam – or the rest of Smiley's people – as anything other than righteous titans of a morally clearer era. It feels like a simplification of the ethical ambiguity that gave the earlier books their disturbing appeal ...feels like a grandmaster's farewell performance.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorSlezkine's book revels in an overload of details. He has traced the 2,655 registered tenants through every stage of their occupancy; he follows them as they change apartments; he has read – at crushingly impressive length – from their personal letters and diaries; perhaps most amazingly, in the case of all those in-house fiction-writers (and all of their colleagues living elsewhere), he has read all of their writings, and he relates them all with generous sympathy and insight in these pages. Among the many other things it is, The House of Government is also one of the greatest extended appreciations of prewar Russian literature ever to appear in English ... regardless of its size and complexity – and despite some of its grim tidings, this book is an absolute delight to read, a masterpiece of the odd, almost unclassifiable kind that Russian literature is so adept at producing ... thanks to Yuri Slezkine, the House of Government is now immortal in literature as well.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor\"...[a] terrific book ... Boström matches his detailing of the production vagaries of these shows with sharp insights into the work of everybody involved – the actors, the producers, the directors, and the ever-present but always-shifting chorus of Holmes fans watching every rendition of the character ... There have of course been countless books written on the Sherlock Holmes phenomenon since the days more than a century ago when lines of clamoring fans formed outside the Strand offices in London. But despite that tremendous backlog of titles, in From Holmes to Sherlock Matthias Boström has written a necessary addition to any Baker Street library.\
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorIn these pages, Blumenthal draws one vivid picture after another of these least-known years of Lincoln's life ... [Rival Senator Stephen] Douglas is in some ways the star of Wrestling with His Angel; he's magnificently, complexly portrayed throughout ... Blumenthal makes no secret of his affection for his subject; although intelligent and rigorous with its sources, this is a deeply sympathetic account of the Lincoln the man. But it's also unblinking in taking the measure of Lincoln the pragmatic politician, Lincoln the career politician whose personal ambition lies at odds with the more standard hagiographies but fits perfectly with the epic, multi-faceted portrait Blumenthal is volume-by-volume assembling here ... It's a tribute to Blumenthal's art that he's managed to make a period in Lincoln's life that most biographers brush past in haste a deeply fascinating story in its own right.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe books she encounters are discoveries in their own right, and there are some wonderfully passionate readings along the way ... Thanks to the immediacy of her prose, readers feel like they're watching Hood hurrying back to her Bleecker Street apartment and flopping on her couch to read newly-bought books straight on 'til morning ... Those young readers exploring the adult section of their library for the first time, or walking the aisles of their bookstore with a birthday gift certificate in hand, could do much worse than to encounter Morningstar, with its bright tales of literature's quiet, pervasive power. But older readers will love the book, too – among other reasons, for all the fond reminders of how they became who they are.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...[a] quietly horrifying book ... Whether its author intends it or not, The Darkening Web eventually accumulates the picture of an impending apocalypse, an utterly unwinnable war in which the world's few good guys – in this account, the liberal democracies that are interested in social freedom and the uncensored flow of information – are outgunned, outspent, and outmaneuvered at every stage of what Klimburg refers to as the great cyber game.
John B. Boles
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...[an] intensely satisfying book ... a more complex and balanced account of Jefferson than any written since Willard Sterne Randall's Thomas Jefferson a quarter of a century ago ... Boles does a particularly skillful job at weaving Jefferson's correspondence and other writings into the busy tempo of his year-to-year life, creating a fascinating dialogue on the page between the reserved and often diffident public man and direct and provocative private writer ... Less convincing – in fact, downright mystifying – is our author's persistent reluctance to assess Jefferson squarely on the subject where he needs it the most: slavery...Boles's own attempts to explain these failures are his excellent book's besetting weakness. Time and again, he introduces bizarre semi-justifications and rationalizations to soften the brutal reality of Jefferson's callous racism.
PositiveThe Washington PostHer latest book, Life After Life, is longer than its predecessors, and so is the interval. It doesn’t star Jackson Brodie. It is noticeably ambitious ... The gimmick will be very familiar to science fiction fans. Countless stories, perhaps most famously Ken Grimwood’s 1987 cult favorite Replay...have shared just such a premise ... The book is at its best in those stretches. Haphazardly grafted onto the story of a young woman who is constantly reincarnated is the story of a young woman trying to cope with the brutality of wartime London ... Buried inside Life After Life is the best Blitz novel since Sarah Waters’s The Night Watch ... The rest is about a woman to whom \'Home was an idea, and like Arcadia it was lost in the past.\'
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorMost of the familiar places and names from standard Martha's Vineyard books are here in these pages as well: Peter Benchley and Jaws, visiting Clintons, Carly Simon, Walter Cronkite and the rest. The chapter on formidable Vineyard doyenne and Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham is the most charming in the book, positively luminous with nostalgic affection. And the broader canvas of Vineyard life – the shops, the storms, the wry local humor – is painted with exactly the kind of skill and evocation readers would expect from the author of the bestselling In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... his fiction debut is a merry homage to the great novels of the 18th century, a carefully-tuned echo of Tobias Smollett and Henry Fielding ... Spufford unfolds his subsequent adventures with a fine ear for the arch language of the day, and with a very satisfying feel for sly comedy ... As faithful, even sometimes slavish, as Golden Hill is to its great template novels of centuries ago, the book has a one-two combination of twists at the very end that would have been all but unthinkable to the likes of Sterne or Smollett. These twists are pure products of cinema, not literature – but even readers who tend to fume at such gimmicks will have built up such a store of affection for this terrific novel that they'll be inclined to forgive all. With Golden Hill Spufford adds another genre to an already impressive résumé.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor\"Levingston\'s writing on King is unfailingly perceptive and eloquent, looking clearly at his flaws (mainly vanity, and a penchant for histrionics that\'s endemic to Southern preachers, even Boston University-educated ones) while conveying on every page his greatness. The main problem with the book is that its story is lopsided: in these pages, King has both the vision and the courage to pursue it in the face of all obstacles. Kennedy, on the other hand, presents an imbalance not even the most sympathetic writer can fully right ... Levingston is aware of this uneasy dialectic, of course, and he treats it with the complexity that it deserves. His version of JFK is a man whose pragmatics are constantly at war with his idealism, and thanks to Levingston\'s impressive narrative skills, the spectacle of this president confronting the most divisive issue of his day is consistently fascinating.\
Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...a truly impressive feat of journalism, both the closest we're ever likely to come to a day-by-day account of Bin Laden's life in those years and also an intensely gripping reading experience ... behind the headlines, the story told in The Exile is a gritty, sordid one, focused on the mostly pathetic details of the fugitive life, unfolding in dusty borrowed rooms in half a dozen bolt-hole locations.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorFinch does a fine job of capturing the essence of the place. He's our best, most perceptive Cape Cod writer in a line extending back through Wyman Richardson, author of The House on Nauset Marsh, to Henry Beston, author of The Outermost House, reaching all the way to Henry David Thoreau ... There are vivid moments – a beached whale carcass, notable Cape ruins, a random encounter with one of the Outer Beach's rare freshwater springs, persistent drifting fogs – interwoven deftly with affectionate portraits of Cape people, and with stories of Finch's own family and friends.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorBowden tells this story with a power and a wealth of detail that no previous history of this offensive has approached – this is another instantly-recognizable classic of military history ... Those individual stories, many of which Bowden records here for the first time, will haunt readers long after they've finished the book.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe novel is a lean, propulsively readable adventure story, filled with seamlessly-interwoven exposition and sharp dialogue. It's easily the best thing with Michael Crichton's name on it since 1999's Timeline ... Along the way, Dragon Teeth delivers the science behind its dramatics with positively contagious energy ... These Crichton fossils being unearthed with such regularity are archeological gold.
Thomas Oliphant and Curtis Wilkie
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...a conscientiously-researched and terrific book ... through a careful piecing together of primary accounts and secondary reminiscences by all the key players, Oliphant and Wilkie have managed to craft a tougher and more balanced account of the long campaign than anybody's written yet.
Sally Bendell Smith
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorSmith writes about all this with a skill and sympathy she perfected in her 2012 biography of Charles's mother. She's frank about the Prince's personal flaws...Even as a man in his late 60s, he can still be aggravated when it seems as if his parents don't fully appreciate his hard work. It's an affectingly human portrait ... Smith's book gives readers a prince who's earned both his friends and enemies the old-fashioned way, a hard-working and opinionated man of principle. When it comes to gaining a new king, regardless of his age at accession, a kingdom could do much, much worse.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...[a] massively learned and electrifying new book ... In the telling of this story, FitzGerald pulls off an admirable feat. She writes compassionately about generations of deeply held faith without seeming naive, even as she resists cynicism while noting the psychotics, charlatans, and con artists who have sometimes arisen to 'deceive the very elect.' The result is a quiet marvel of a book, well deserving of winning its author her second Pulitzer.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorRon Powers has earned his right to publish a book as angry and revelatory as No One Cares About Crazy People – he's paid the highest price a father can pay: his son Kevin hanged himself ... He has shaped his pain into a sustained howl of incandescent outrage, a book too heartbreaking to be comforting (despite its glimmers of die-hard optimism) and too uncompromising to be ignored ...If any book can begin to change those conditions, this is the one.
John A. Farrell
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...[a] superb new book ... Farrell's book is the smartest and most insightful (and wittiest – there are many passages of pin-point deadpan humor in these pages, and they're much appreciated) biography of Nixon since Jonathan Aitken's excellent 1994 Nixon: A Life. But even this smart author often tries to burnish the reputation of his subject ... This is the most formidable attempt yet made to put Richard Nixon in perspective. But some reputations can't be salvaged.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...[an] energetic, intensely readable book ... In sure, economical strokes, Englund describes the hopeless gap that quickly widened between the country's new political realities and its well-intentioned but hapless former monarch ... the careful history in March 1917 also doubles as a warning.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorFor a nuts-and-bolts dissection of a 150-year-old doorstop French historical novel, The Novel of the Century is captivating ... there's a distinct charm in realizing that Bellos is not only an authority on the book but a fan ... The title of Bellos's book, it must be conceded, is much closer to those paddle steamers than it is to literary reality. Hugo's book is for long stretches hysterically over-stuffed and scatterbrained. Hugo himself might have been right in calling it 'a work of love and pity,' but Bellos calling it 'the novel of the century' is sheer fan club partisanship ... The Novel of the Century perfectly captures all sides of this publishing phenomenon and the man at its center. Bellos fascinates from beginning to end – and who knows? He may even tempt his braver readers to leave his base camp and make an assault on the Everest of the novel itself.
PositiveThe Washington PostAlthough it’s being marketed as adult fiction, it’s full of clueless boys, consequence-free adventures and generous helpings of adolescent humor, all served up with a kind smile ... you relish the book’s countless callbacks to the 1980s: Every TV show, Hollywood star, snack food, video game, brand name and especially every song is duly name-checked to the extent that Phil Collins could demand a cut of the sales. In the way of so many first novels, this scene-setting is drastically overdone, but the whole thing is brought off with a sweet neatness nonetheless. The only thing missing is the warm Wonder Years voice-over.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorEven in translation, Ohler is an unfailingly engaging guide to all this sordid material, sketching the long history of his subject and the surprisingly widespread infiltration of all kinds of powerful stimulants into German civilian society ... Over and over, he portrays Hitler and his leading henchmen as drug addicts so strung out on cocaine and amphetamines that they could scarcely think of anything else...If this isn't a portrait of what law enforcement knows as 'diminished capacity,' it would be hard to imagine what would be. The fact of that drug use is now unavoidable. Making sense of its implications lies outside of the purview of Blitzed – and will be the work of future historians.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorLong before the book's final pages, it's clear that Saddam's baleful magnetism, the hallmark of the psychopath, had not deserted him in the face of his captivity ... Nixon captures the psychological give-and-take of these exchanges with gripping readability – there's a two-actor smash Broadway hit play waiting to be crafted from these pages ... Debriefing the President is as much of the man himself as we're ever likely to know.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...[a] brilliant book ... Mishra's overview – amazingly capacious, considering the book's relative brevity – is grounded in a study of people across the spectrum ... Age of Anger is a fiercely literate and eloquent status report on systemic madness that seems to be the young 21st century's defining characteristic, and Mishra isn't afraid to follow some of his own theories to their ultimate implications.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorIn a series of well-deployed flashbacks, readers see the brutal incidents that served to disillusion Haris with his former employers (one of the book's best-drawn characters, a sergeant named Jim, looms over these segments) ... Ackerman can be a maddeningly uneven writer. His prose can swing from plodding to evocative in the span of a single paragraph, very likely a reflection of the contesting aims of telling a poignant individual story like that of Haris and also providing readers with a broader-perspective look at complex cataclysms like the Syrian Civil War ... These moments are frequent and lovely, but pulling against them constantly are the larger societal stories Ackerman equally strongly wants to tell. These wide-canvas stories are as well-dramatized as the smaller, more personal triangle of Haris, Amir, and Daphne, but they often feel like they belong in a different book ... but the plot itself, pitched between headline-grabbing news stories and the ordinary people lost in their clamor, will keep readers engrossed to the final pages.
Timothy B. Tyson
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorTyson re-examines every aspect of the case, giving his forensic evaluation the pacing and readability of a crime thriller as he pours over court records and witness statements, including the only interview ever given by the woman whose encounter with Till triggered the whole tragedy. This is an urgent, compelling, often angry book in which no compromises are made with the hard realities of American race relations. 'Emmett Till's death was an extreme example of the logic of America's national racial caste system,' Tyson concludes chillingly. 'Ask yourself whether America's predicament is really so different now.'”
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorSims's account beats most of these [other biographies] for sheer energetic readability, and Arthur and Sherlock is certainly the new century's best introduction to the subject.
Edward Jay Epstein
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...a great slop bucket of ice-cold water poured on this received narrative ... Epstein reminds readers of one unsettling detail after another from the Snowden story, details that tend to get airbrushed from more celebratory accounts. The popular characterization of Snowden – as an idealist motivated by patriotism even at great personal risk – takes an unrecoverable pounding in these pages ... And against the simplistic Hollywood narrative of a lone hero 'speaking truth to power,' How America Lost Its Secrets now poses an indispensable counterpoint.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorEven the thousands of readers who loved The End of Your Life Book Club might find that a little of this kind of pap goes a long way. Fortunately, as with that earlier book, this new one is saved by the author's infectious friendly chattiness ... when Books for Living is at its most winning, it's more like a high-spirited and digressive talk with a knowledgeable bookstore clerk than a series of Encounters with the Universe ... Readers who like this kind of quasi-spiritual way of thinking and talking about books will find Books for Living a sweet and utterly restorative series of vignettes about how books – the right books, at the right times – can not only deepen a life but save it. And even those of us who like our book experience with a little less hooey will be happy to spend some time listening to a die-hard bookworm making lots of good recommendations.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor[Baird] concentrates on the personal stuff and keeps the broader social and political issues of Victorian times firmly in the background ... Victoria the Queen is a cheerful, chatty success from start to finish ... her bond with Prince Albert is the dramatic high point of Victoria the Queen, although Baird also does a lively, excellent job of detailing Victoria's later years.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...a splendid, sympathetic full-length biography ... Tisserand tracks Herriman from project to project, giving readers a surprisingly exciting picture of a talent steadily maturing ... The free-flowing nature of that work is a difficult thing to capture in prose, and this biographer surely does it about as well as it can be done, taking readers inside the constantly-shifting landscapes of Herriman's work at its peak ... Tisserand has now given readers a wonderful companion volume to that iconic artwork.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...[a] fantastic new book ... This is an author who has created a reliable name for herself finding hidden or overlooked stories in the history of science and finding the human beings in those stories, and The Glass Universe is her most winning book yet, a perfect fit of great tale and great teller ... Sobel fills in these astronomical accomplishments with confidently-rendered swaths of personal details, not just of the observatory's women but of all the characters that walk through her story.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...the fact that the book is unfailingly great reading is testimony to the fact that Keneally is our greatest living practitioner of historical fiction ... a masterpiece in miniature, a drama with almost no moving parts ... The halting, growing intimacy between these two characters is the centerpiece and genius of the novel ... a complex and mesmerizing success.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorThe stories Willner recounts about some of her relatives not only horrify on the personal level but do grim stand-in duty for the kinds of things millions of families were suffering ... succeeds at being both a poignant parable of hope and, at times, a harrowing ghost story.
Blanche Wiesen Cook
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...a thoroughly researched and immensely readable account ... Cook does a stirringly sensitive job describing the core beliefs that gave 'ER' strength even in the war's darkest days ... Readers will encounter in these pages an intimate, touchingly human Eleanor Roosevelt – an icon they can both admire and genuinely like.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...[a] grim and important new book ... In Wartime is a fast-paced and very topical book, an old-fashioned series of magazine-crafted war dispatches, but Judah's expertise is appealingly ambitious in its scope. But the book's main strength is in its detail-work ... Readers won't forget the pathos and violence Tim Judah has described, and they owe him a vote of thanks for that.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorUllrich gives readers a very shrewd and insightful account of the precise maneuverings by which Hitler seized power in Germany ... In the book's closing segments, the familiar crazed dictator of the World War II years is all but fully formed. The account of that formation in Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 is the richest and most convincingly three-dimensional one yet produced by a major biographer. And the fully-human Hitler who emerges from these pages is, inevitably, far more horrifying than a simple monster ever could be.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...as valuable as [it is] entertaining ... Millard often, perhaps too often, hits a tone of high melodrama scarcely distinguishable from Churchill's own account ... But her general narrative instincts are as true here as they've always been, and she keeps constantly in mind what Churchill himself kept constantly in mind: not the heroism of British troops nor the doomed bravery of the Boers but rather the fame of Winston Churchill ... Millard brings [Churchill] vividly to life.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...as fascinating as his publishing anecdotes are, the book's warmest moments invariably attach to his accounts of [his] friendships ... Even so, his book-world anecdotes are uniformly riveting, catnip to the die-hard bookworms who will surely make up the bulk of the readership of Avid Reader.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorKing's account is full of tense moments in which the painter gave way to epic fits of rage in which he sometimes turned his anger against his own canvases. He described himself as 'at war with nature and time,' and Mad Enchantment captures that war with page-turning intensity ... Monet died on December 5, 1926, at Giverny, with his friend Clemenceau at his bedside, and in his final chapter, King does a quick and effective job of outlining the artist's steadily growing posthumous fame.
RaveThe Washington PostIt’s a classic Hiaasen setup, and Razor Girl delivers on it with seasoned, professional ease. The dialogue somehow sounds believable even at its most deadpan hilarious, and the multi-pronged satire — of Florida, corrupt cops, bumbling criminals and, most exquisitely, the entertainment industry — is gentle but merciless.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...[a] compassionate and captivating new book ... Flores goes on to point out, with the gentle understatement that underpins much of Coyote America, that at a distance, 'the hatred seems hard to square with anything rational.'
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...it slowly dawns on you, reading through these New Yorker pieces, just how much danger their author had to court in order to write them ... The inescapable conclusion of Wright’s book is that those fanatical undercurrents have grown much stronger in the past 15 years and will only continue to grow. The worst part of Wright’s great book is the understanding that the terror years could be with us for a long time to come.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorTo the Bright Edge of the World" is a stunning and subtle performance ... One of the many wonders of To the Bright Edge of the World is the skillful, confident way it invests the elemental with human dimensions. This is enchanted writing.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...the chief strong point of his book is how earnestly it puts substance ahead of flash; The Tyrannosaur Chronicles is much more than just a celebration of the most charismatic of dinosaurs – it's also an in-depth look at what we know about them, and how we know it ... general readers will find this book a wealth of research and detail very unlike the typical popularist look at dinosaurs – indeed, sometimes it's a bit dauntingly detailed ... The Tyrannosaur Chronicles presents scientific investigation as a thrilling combination of discovery and informed guesswork.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorThe book is often very, very good, and if it falls short of definitive, it at least can't blame unrealistic expectations: Tye walks into the flaws in his biography with his eyes wide open. It captures RFK's cold, ruthless side with appropriate relish, and it provides fast-paced and very detailed accounts of RFK's early working relationship with soon-to-be-disgraced Wisconsin politician Joe McCarthy ... But the book's flaws steadily accumulate as the pages turn. Tye's research is extensive, but he frequently indulges in dramatic elaborations that research can't support ... Tye can often be refreshingly discerning about the mercurial nature of RFK's growth as a person and a candidate, but he's neither a curious nor a rigorous assessor of the facts.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor...utterly heartbreaking ... Ehrenreich moves among them, visits their homes, shares their meals, and again and again in the course of the book seems surprised and touched by the quiet resolve, even the grace, with which they bear up under day-to-day circumstances that would very quickly drive most of this book's readers to complete despair ... The inhabitants of towns like 'Planet Hebron' face this kind of violence virtually every day, and Ehrenreich is a keen observer both of the ways this has deepened their family bonds and also the way it's sharpened the cynicism of everybody he meets ... For those ordinary people of the West Bank, whose lives Ben Ehrenreich has so sadly and wonderfully chronicled in The Way to the Spring, it means a further tightening of the noose, the light of a better future receding that much farther away.
Michael J. Graetz & Linda Greenhouse
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorIt's Graetz and Greenhouse's contention that, in fact, the decisions of the Burger Court 'in many ways shaped the society we live in today.' The Burger Court decided on 2,738 cases, and even in a book as densely packed as this one, our authors can only indulge in detailed accounts of a representative handful of these cases. They concentrate instead on broader social topics like race, crime, and business in order to create a framework for what turns out to be some thrillingly intelligent analysis of the ways the Burger Court handled the massive legacy it was handed by the Warren Court ... the newly constituted Burger Court never succeeded in outright overturning any of the Warren Court's signature rulings; but it immediately set to work weakening those rulings and sapping the strength from social and legal guarantees of equality before the law ... Our authors do their best to be objective and balanced about all this, but when confronted with such an unrelenting record of perfidy in jurisprudence, they're sometimes forced to repeat themselves ... Our authors are wonderful at summing up but maddeningly diplomatic at times about handing down verdicts.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor... challenging and intensely satisfying ... Proulx populates her story with dozens of actors, each sketched with the immediacy and oddball clarity that have always made her people the most memorable parts of her novels and short stories ... Proulx's talent for bringing individuals alive with a single perfectly-turned line has never been sharper than in these pages ... It's a completely masterful performance, the greatest thing this great novelist has ever written.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorSolomon is foremost a keenly sympathetic observer; in every one of these reprinted pieces, he's carefully watching the everyday people on whose homes and plights he's also reporting ... as dramatic as these and other stories are in recounting Solomon's adventures all over the world, equally memorable as a strand running through Far & Away is the picture it presents of the evolution of a traveler.
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorNagorski's account gives [Wiesenthal] the prominence any such account must, but it also deals squarely with the controversies that surrounded Wiesenthal, particularly accusations that he exaggerated his role in several of his high-profile cases. And it's not just Wiesenthal: All of the book's main actors are painted with a complex but unsparing clarity ... The Nazi Hunters has a self-consciously valedictory air no prior such book has felt comfortable assuming; Nagorski knows that on one level he's recounting a tale that's effectively over. The genius of his book's final segments derives from its knowing echoes of what the prosecutors at Nuremberg saw 70 years ago: These trials, these pursuits of the guilty into the comfortable parlors of their second lives, were always as much about the future as they were about the past.
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorCritics have called Zero K chilly and bloodless. A. O. Scott memorably ended his review with the line 'The book is as cold as its title.' Such judgements run the risk of mistaking cold for calm. There are deep, slicing currents running through Zero K, despite its almost ascetic surfaces, and there are unforgettable little moments scattered everywhere in these pages, as when, late in the story, Jeff notices the deterioration of his once-formidable father...
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorIn these nine stories, all of them so smoothly and successfully realized that it seems incredible that this volume is her fiction debut, many of Alvar's characters seek their fortunes far from home, although echoes of that home sound throughout their immigrant lives ... It's a range that would be the envy of authors with 10 books under their belts, and all the stories are shot through with vivid glimpses of street life in Manila.
Andrew J. Bacevich
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorBacevich takes his readers through the doleful highlights, from major attacks in Libya and Sudan and Kosovo to full-scale operations like Desert Storm in Iraq, Cyclone in Afghanistan, and the ominously vague open-ended Inherent Resolve. His accounts of these conflicts are filled with immediacy and some punchy, memorable prose, and they show a dramatic flair for character-drawing that will be familiar to readers of his earlier books.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, ed. William Anderson
PositiveThe Christian Science MonitorThere are many warm and touching aspects of The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but the best of them all is just this relationship Wilder developed with her readers, including her very young readers...Despite William Anderson's warning, reading these wonderfully human letters will make every reader hope for more, someday.
PositiveThe Christian Science Monitor...Dvorak reminds his readers throughout this engaging, informative book [that] his hero's real work was in laying 'the foundation of almost every aspect of volcano research today.'
RaveThe Christian Science MonitorAs a glance at any day's headlines makes depressingly obvious, we live in a world where facts and evidence and logic still have quite a lot of work to do. In telling such an animated version of the greatest adventure story of human history, Wootton makes that work a little easier.
RaveThe Christian Science Monitor\"In The Slave\'s Cause readers have their fullest and most readable account yet of all his precursors and allies in the long struggle to bring about that impartial liberty in the teeth of opposition from very wealthy interests who believed they had God on their side. Sinha\'s big book deserves to become the new standard account of all those daring strivers.\
PositiveThe Washington PostIn Arcadia, these kinds of narrative tools get knocked away one after the next, even without the help of a plot-your-own app. Pears steadily folds and refolds the texture of his narrative, loading it with more and more imbrications until it seems like the superstructure itself will collapse ... The first few of these storytelling high jinks seem forced and somewhat twee. But as Pears steadily builds his multiplicity of stories, his orchestrations become something far more ambitious, a calculated and at times quite droll assault on the very nature of narrative itself.
MixedThe Christian Science MonitorSome of its segments are far more polished than others – indeed, some are almost sloppy. Yes, the thing is billed as 'unpublished,' but much of it also often feels unready, which makes it an odd capstone to the publishing history of such a perfectionist as Hughes.
PanThe Christian Science MonitorTheir Promised Land seems awkwardly caught between fiction and memoir, with neither the imaginative sweep of the former nor the heft of the latter. Instead, what we have is certainly more elaborate than those boxes of old letters but ultimately not much more moving.
PanThe Christian Science MonitorCompressing timelines? OK. Fabricating dialogue? OK. Inventing narrative-helping events? OK. The list is long enough to make you wonder if 'intention to deceive' really means 'dumb enough to get caught.'