PositiveThe Observer (UK)Ardent, harrowing and occasionally exasperating ... A scintillatingly narrated journey from refugee campfire to academia, but another story rubs nigglingly against the narrative’s grain, that of her partner Sam’s brother Josh, a troubled soul who took his own life ... Such truth-telling, apparently devoid of tact or compassion, is not necessarily the virtue she takes it to be ... But her book is mostly an elegant telling of truth to power ... Her book is published at a poignant moment ... At best, Nayeri’s book is an eloquent rebuke to that heartlessness.
RaveThe Observer (UK)Gripping ... It takes extraordinary qualities to do some of the things she recounts in this book ... Against the odds and against a great deal of prejudice, Chelsea Manning has become a new kind of American heroine.
RaveThe Guardian (UK)Ypi’s memoir is instead brilliantly observed, politically nuanced and – best of all – funny ... What makes the memoir utterly engrossing is not just how little Lea’s politics develop, but how she comes to find out how her parents and beloved granny, Nini, hide things to protect her ... How delightful to read a book about Albania that doesn’t cite the country’s obsession with Norman Wisdom, but instead has its own jet-black humour ... It’s a story that, in its laughably hellish bureaucratic absurdity, lies and pointless suffering, typifies the professor’s experiences as a little girl ... An essential book, just as much for Britons as Albanians.
Karl Schlögel, Tr. Jessica Spengler
RaveThe Guardian (UK)... [a] gripping olfactory history ... Schlögel writes, briefly but shatteringly, of how the uncontrollable stench of Auschwitz’s furnaces drifted over the Polish countryside ... Schlögel, a specialist on Russian history based in Frankfurt, is sensitive to how, in the hierarchy of the senses, smell is at the bottom ... He has done something improbable: written a memorable book about the most ungraspable of historical phenomena. Osip Mandelstam said there was a noise of time (hence the title of Julian Barnes’s novel about Shostakovich); Schlögel plausibly argues there is a smell too.
PositiveThe Financial TimesIt is painful if instructive to read these passages since Sontag has long personified the culture and cleverness New York’s Jewish intellectuals gave to the world ... In Sontag, the mask slips: the unimpeachable doyenne of radical chic often appears foolish, and her favoured mode of assertion without evidence is her undoing ... Moser doesn’t let his subject off the hook. To a divided world she brought a divided self, he suggests ... Why read Sontag now? Moser’s sensible suggestion is that she showed what few have managed to do: to remain anchored in the canon of high culture while embracing...the culture industry ... There is another reason why Sontag remains relevant. Long before our age of selfies, her concern was that we don’t so much consume images as get consumed by them ... Sontag, for all her faults, fought a long battle against our chronic voyeurism, no less praiseworthy for being on the losing side.
PositiveThe Spectator...[a] beguiling history ... For those of us still traumatised after spending university years banjaxed by such questions as ‘Could God make a bowl of porridge too big to eat?’, Rée’s book may well be the most fun we’ve ever had with anglophone philosophy ... an intellectual adventure story in which the usual suspects — Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Mill — all figure, but get sidelined by his heroes — the oddballs, underdogs and outcasts, many of them women, some of them scary decapitators, who were obliged to operate outside the patriarchal, class-bound academy ... [an] intellectual romp...
Tiffany Watt Smith
PositiveThe GuardianWatt Smith is at her best when she relates cases that flirt with bad taste ... Appealingly, Watt Smith isn’t above this grubby fray ... It is filled not just with gags and shaming confessions, but chastening thoughts—nowhere more so than when she challenges the orthodoxy that schadenfreude has its limits.
Kwame Anthony Appiah
PositiveThe Guardian...a thoughtful study ... Appiah is an excellent person to explore why notions of identity matter so much today ... But if you are going to read only one book on identity this year, Appiah’s is the one. Not just for the vivid autobiographical details ... And not just for his lovely images ... I liked his analysis of cultural appropriation ... I love that remark as a rebuke to the prevailing ethos of constructing our identities by climbing over each other’s faces. Even if Appiah’s suggested goal might be unattainable, the work he proposes that we do towards it would be noble.
PositiveThe GuardianThough many books have been written about the decline of the French intellectual, Sand’s is a welcome addition since it is written, not by a navel-gazing insider, but by someone by turns seduced and revolted by that Gallic neologism, les intellocrates ... What Sand’s book lacks, despite its refreshing absence of deference, is a sense of what made French intellectual production since the war so compelling. Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Kristeva, Lacan, Derrida, Cixous, Deleuze and Guattari are scarcely mentioned and Foucault only gets a cameo ... I’d like to read that adventure story, but Sand doesn’t tell it. Instead, he explores the embarrassing truth that, while in the new millennium the quality of French intellectual life has plummeted, its reputation remains. He bracingly compares media-friendly intellectuals such as Houellebecq, Éric Zemmour and Alain Finkielkraut to Nazi-collaborating writers such as Robert Brasillach and Pierre Drieu La Rochelle ... his admiration for French intellectuals, such as it is, does not extend to self-identifying with Islamophobes.
PositiveThe GuardianAgnès Poirier’s engaging romp through the decade in which Paris rose from wartime shame to assert its claims to be world capital of art, philosophy and turtlenecks teems with...vignettes ... De Beauvoir signed a form denying she was Jewish so she could continue teaching in occupied Paris. While she and Sartre were never freer, Parisian Jews were being rounded up by Parisian cops and murdered in Nazi death camps. Celebrity collaborators, too, in on-trend if unwitting existentialist fashion, defined their moral characters through what they did rather than what they thought—and later came up with shameless rationalizations ... Poirier, though, risks soft pedalling these evasions and self-delusions since, ardent Parisienne that she is, she wants to tell a love story. In her narrative, everyone who is creatively or intellectually anyone is seduced by Paris ... The EU could be seen not the way Poirier sees it, as Paris-created bulwark, but as sociologist Wolfgang Streeck envisioned it—a deregulation machine exposing its citizens to capitalism gone wild. I would argue that, were Sartre and De Beauvoir alive, they would share Streeck’s view. But let’s not leave Paris without yielding, just a little, to Poirier’s rose-tinted image of its charms.