PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewFor Kagan, it is crucial to show that America’s early adventures abroad were not elite conspiracies, but moral undertakings with broad popular support ... What is staggering about Kagan’s account is how it mirrors the original version propounded by the Allied victors in 1919. While Kagan succeeds brilliantly in calling up the emotional temperature of the period, he studiously neglects the wider picture ... It appears difficult for Kagan’s worldview to accept that there may be problems American power cannot resolve alone.
PositiveNew York Times Book ReviewMasterly ... Something of a specialist in the annals of atrocity, Hochschild spares no detail in American Midnight ... Hochschild in American Midnight stages a morality tale. There is an extensive cast of villains ... Hochschild includes every twist and turn ... Hochschild’s sharp portraits and vignettes make for poignant reading, but at times skirt fuller historical understanding. We hear about newspapers and magazines being shut down, but little about what was being argued in them ... Hochschild attributes much of the failure of American socialists to expand their ranks to the racism and xenophobia that bedeviled the white working class. But there were also significant problems of organization in the American labor movement.
MixedThe London Review of Books (UK)... still bears traces of its original conception: under the limpid surface the ‘themes’ are checked off one by one: feminism, religion, migration etc. Yet the result is a plunge into the vanished world of Albanian communism and the new system that was meant to replace it. The fun of the book (for a Western reader at least) is that Ypi has made communism her control, with the market-based revolution of the 1990s the estranging experience that forces her to reckon with what it means to ‘come of age at the end of history’ ... Free: Coming of Age at the End of History ... Ypi recovers the sensory world of communist Albania: its privations, its ecstasies, but also its banalities ... The set pieces most praised by Anglophone reviewers seem to me to be among the weakest: Ypi is, if anything, too heavy on the commodity-comedy so familiar from Eastern Bloc memoirs. It’s all there: the fight over the talismanic Coke can that nearly tears two families apart; the dishwasher fluid used as shampoo; the comforting purr of a functioning Western refrigerator; the first touch of a plastic bag; the intoxicating scent of sunscreen ... At its best, Ypi’s prose is tart, tactile and unsparing in its account of a society undergoing ‘transition’ ... one would expect more introspection from a philosopher of Ypi’s standing when it comes to local critics ... The problem with some of Ypi’s scenes isn’t really about memory or truth – whether or not her Stalin statue had a thigh for her to press her cheek against. It’s about whether she may have submitted a bit too readily to Anglo-American publishing imperatives that want stories of far-off places served with a spoonful of kitsch ... Ypi’s apparent over-compliance with certain narrative expectations makes one wonder if she has oversimplified other aspects of her passage through 1990s Albania.
RaveThe New Yorker... the first comprehensive look at this dense web of resistance ... Scores of crisscrossing characters and groups sometimes threaten, in their sheer number, to capsize Harper’s nimble storytelling, but this overabundance is part of the book’s strength, allowing us to see the contingent nature of many outcomes. Reading Underground Asia is like being privy to a historical particle accelerator, watching as revolutionary agents smash up against different imperial oppositions ... Harper...reads the colonial intelligence files on his protagonists against the grain. The result provides an unexpected key to understanding contemporary Asian politics.
PositiveThe Washington Examiner... it’s salutary to have a fresh account of the birthing pains of that vaunted republic rather than another autopsy of its demise ... Gerwarth finely evokes the scene in a Belgian train car in which the chief German negotiator of the armistice, Matthias Erzberger (a tragic figure who was against the war at the onset and would later be murdered by a right-wing terror cell) realized to his horror that no compromise whatsoever would be forthcoming from the Allies ... while Gerwarth makes a few nods toward the wider geopolitical canvas of 1918, one would like to know more about how the revolution registered across the German Empire, from German Southwest Africa to Neukamerun. Where Gerwarth most excels is deftly weaving together the impressions of contemporary commentators, of whom he has assembled a rich banquet[.]
PositiveThe New RepublicIf Ulysses S. Grant’s memoirs became an accidental modernist classic, it was because he evacuated his own personality so completely from his account that he figured as another instrument of war. Barack Obama’s A Promised Land is somewhere at the opposite end of the spectrum. The expectations for the book recall the expectations for his presidency. Obama is aware of this and aware that his ability to report on the progress of his self-awareness was always part of his appeal ... Compared to the and-then-we-became-buddies volubility of Bill Clinton’s My Life , and the point-blank basicness of George W. Bush’s Decision Points , Obama’s A Promised Land is both a more disciplined and ambitious undertaking. It could have been titled \'The Education of Barack Obama,\' if that didn’t suggest a few more degrees of irony than he is willing to allow. Obama tends to believe he made the best of each of the quagmires he inherited. Accompanying his exculpatory agenda, there is an edifying one: The memoir is aimed at young idealists, whom he spoon-feeds background history, from the rise of Putin in Russia to the story of Saudi oil ... The smoothness of narrative benefits from the fact that Obama sees his political ascent as inextricable from his own individual narrative... Despite being more thoroughly the work of a single hand than its predecessors, the strange experience of reading this presidential memoir is that it feels more storyboarded: more crisp, more conventional, more strategic, more Netflix-series friendly.
MixedThe New Statesman (UK)From the outset, Inside Story provokes renewed wonder at Amis’s bottomless capacity for filial piety. Not content with one father to revere, Amis made a point of acquiring others … The trouble that Amis encounters in his attempt to fictionalise his friendship with Hitchens is that we know too much about him … There is the feeling of a friendship being performed rather than excavated … But the chief problem with Amis’s revivification of Hitchens is the lurking sense that something is missing from the effort … Amis himself once told the Independent that, ‘My friendship with the Hitch has always been perfectly cloudless. It is a love whose month is ever May.’ But the statement is so uncharacteristically and ostentatiously studded with clichés that it rises to a wry smirk. Did they experience no vicissitudes? … The unexpected gift of Inside Story comes under the heading of ‘How to Write’. Amis reliably provides synaptic pleasure whenever he pauses to give one of his didactic asides about the English language. It would be worth compiling these in a volume to stand alongside Kingsley’s The King’s English. In these moments, Amis’s fastidiousness becomes purely enjoyable.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewNicholas Buccola’s The Fire Is Upon Us is both a dual biography of Buckley and Baldwin and an acute commentary on a great intellectual prizefight ... Buccola, a professor of political science at Linfield College, deftly guides the reader through the rhetorical and philosophical moves of Baldwin’s speech ... The Fire Is Upon Us becomes revelatory in its interpretation of Buckley’s performance ... It is tempting to view the Baldwin-Buckley debate as a small victory for the idea of racial equality: Baldwin carried the floor vote 544 to 164. But part of the wisdom of The Fire Is Upon Us is that it leaves the import of the evening open to question.
MixedThe New RepublicThe book has all the qualities of a nonfiction novel ... As a snapshot of the revolving doors of finance, media, and diplomacy, Packer’s anatomy of power is not new, but the vividness of the detail makes it compulsive reading ... The moral heat that Packer applies to his subject falls on some odd places ... The way that women move through this book is perhaps worth some comment on its own. Packer takes Holbrooke to task for his sexism, yet each time a woman appears in Holbrooke’s life, Packer has to size her up like a wingman ... If there is one current in Holbrooke that Packer consistently seizes on, it’s his sense that some action is better than no action at all ... What is curious is that instead of criticizing Holbrooke’s restlessness, Packer consecrates it. The reason seems to be that deep in Holbrooke is something that appeals to Packer, a commitment to humanitarianism that claims to transcend ideology, and that focuses on intentions instead of outcomes ... For future historians, Our Man will be a valuable artifact from the period when militant liberal internationalism became too weary to bother with reasons, and instead took comfort in the gut of a famous man.
PositiveThe Times Literary Supplement\"What distinguished Wood from most of his contemporaries and immediate predecessors was his focus on matters of aesthetic liberty over social justice, and the suggestion that there was a choice to be made between them ... There is something uncomfortable in Wood’s pieces these days, as if he knows he must somehow account for the political turn of novels, but is unsure how to integrate these concerns into his deep aesthetic commitments ... Upstate is a family drama, modest in scope and written, you sense, fully cognizant of the scrutiny that will attend every move made in it.\