RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewAt one level, the book’s interest is a given ... The surprise is that it’s never cryptic or scattershot ... Just Kids is the most spellbinding and diverting portrait of funky-but-chic New York in the late ’60s and early ’70s that any alumnus has committed to print. The tone is at once flinty and hilarious, which figures: [Smith\'s] always been both tough and funny, two real saving graces in an artist this prone to excess. What’s sure to make her account a cornucopia for cultural historians, however, is that the atmosphere, personalities and mores of the time are so astutely observed. No nostalgist about her formative years, Smith makes us feel the pinched prospects that led her to ditch New Jersey for a vagabond life in Manhattan ... Most often, you’re simply struck by her intelligence, whether she’s figuring out why an acting career doesn’t interest her... or sizing up the ultra-New York interplay between the city’s fringe art scenes and the high-society sponsorship to which Mapplethorpe was drawn ... This enchanting book is a reminder that not all youthful vainglory is silly; sometimes it’s preparation.
W. K. Stratton
MixedBarnes & Noble Review\"... lively, massively informed ... [Stratton is] so deep inside its world that there’s a bit of a Rip Van Winkle effect in his unwillingness to come to grips with how, half a century later, Peckinpah’s devotion to machismo at its most elemental might look damn near obscene, if not demented, to people with sensibilities different from Stratton’s own ... To his credit, Stratton does cite actor Ricardo Montalban’s complaint that watching the Bunch \'annihilate the Mexican army\' was bound to make Latino children say, \'Gee, I wish I were an Anglo.\' But it’s not an observation he’s got much interest in pondering. He’s even more evasive about The Wild Bunch’s gleeful misogyny ... Here’s where you could wish that Stratton had enough critical acumen to recognize that, in this day and age, his love of The Wild Bunch had better be a case for the defense ... While [Stratton\'s] enthrallment with his subject may have its blinkered side, he makes up for that with, among dozens of informative nuggets, the best portrait we’ve yet had of a filmmaker whose insurrectionary impulses were only equalled by his immersion in tradition.\
PositiveBookforum...he chooses some interesting pivotal moments to linger over ... Tomasky’s at his most useful in reminding his readers that nostalgia for a time when our system \'functioned properly\'—that is, without polarization gumming up the works—is, if not misplaced, ahistorical in its assumption that such interludes are ever more than temporary reprieves from our usual appetite for ﬁsticuffs ... At times, he verges on mawkishness in invoking the shared sense of national purpose fostered by the Great Depression and the war ... At his worst, Tomasky is capable of moping that \'I used to think that a new depression and world war would return us to a state of some harmony\' ... Tomasky the political vivisectionist is much more bracing company ... Tomasky’s most ambitious chapter wrestles with what he considers a fateful change in Americans’ civic identity ... At one level, this is a trite critique ... But Tomasky deserves credit for trying to assess how this has reconﬁgured our political identities as well ... this erratic, frequently exasperating book is also a useful one.
RaveBookforum\"Going by the fascinating portrait of him in Leaving the Gay Place, Tracy Daugherty’s superbly gauged and powerfully evocative new biography, Brammer was the sort of seeming outlier whose contradictions turn out to be predictive ... Almost from the start, Brammer seemed bent on becoming the Lone Star State’s unlikely answer to Scott Fitzgerald, with a bit of Stendhal thrown in for leavening. As far as his admirers are concerned, he succeeded, too ... Leaving the Gay Place is a good book about Billy Lee Brammer and a great book about the ’60s. Daugherty’s most artful achievement is the poetry and resonance he finds in Johnson striving with might and main to make his Great Society real, only for Vietnam to do him in, at the same time that Johnson’s onetime factotum, at the cost of dissipating his literary gifts, is coming to epitomize a different America entirely—one that, in a sense, did Brammer in, too.
MixedBookforumBecause The Sky Is Falling deals in large part with the superhero franchises and fantasy spectaculars that have pretty much taken over the moviegoing world...you might expect Biskind to serve up a similar—albeit more cynical—mix of deal porn and entertainingly rendered filmland personalities. But a handful of interview quotes aside, there’s basically no reportage in the book, and not a single juicy, behind-the-scenes anecdote ... He’s obviously right that traditional pop culture’s most reliable and often only message—\'Everything’s fantastic,\' more or less—has been replaced by its pulp counterpart, \'Everything’s drastic.\' (My words, not his.) ... Enlightened fellow though he may be, he nonetheless belongs to the demographic whose once-unchallenged status and cultural sway are being earmarked for the glue factory—and it shows. He correctly spots this transformation-exalting stuff’s origins in stories, beloved by liberals eager to atone for their genocidal forebears, about white men turning against their fellow invaders to adopt Native American ways. Yet the recognition only triggers the most unhinged passage in the book ... It’s hard not to conclude that, in this book, labels like \'mainstream\' and \'centrist\' simply mean whatever validates its seventy-eight-year-old author’s own crankily beleaguered place in the cultural food chain. \'Extremist\' means whatever threatens or demotes it ... the book’s ultimate failure is one of empathy—i.e., any detectable desire to understand why contemporary moviegoers and TV viewers thrive on this stuff, which may require a susceptibility to its attractions he doesn’t share.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewWeinman succeeds at her most important task, which is to make sure we’ll never think about Lolita or Lolita again without sparing a thought for Sally Horner ... Her dogged reconstruction of what an average day in Baltimore might have been for Sally, based mostly on her probable route to school and back, is especially heartbreaking in the sheer tenacity of her gumshoeing guesswork ... Weinman’s interpolated chapters on Nabokov’s activities in the late 1940s and early 1950s feel a bit makeshift, partly because their content—unlike Sally Horner’s story—is already familiar to the great man’s fans ... biographers and scholars explained Sally Horner’s Lolita cameo in passing, but without doing the spadework that would have led them to realize how close the parallels between her story and Lolita’s actually were ... [Weinman] wants us to remember Sally, and The Real Lolita all but guarantees we will.
RaveBarnes & Noble\"Morton marches his readers briskly through Bessie Wallis Warfield’s shabby-genteel Baltimore upbringing. Its details read like a rejected draft of an Edith Wharton novel: The House of Mirth‘s gloom crossed with The Custom of the Country‘s satire, say ... Morton knows better than to attempt the fool’s errand of trying to make Wallis sympathetic or even pleasant. Yet it seems charitable to think of her as thwarted. In a less gynophobic age, her brains, drive, and cunning could have been put to better use than seducing an idiot with an impressive title.\
MixedThe Barnes & Noble ReviewReading Anthony DeCurtis’s Lou Reed: A Life can sometimes give you the feeling that the author can’t wait for the absurd to quit courting the vulgar, but DeCurtis — a longtime MVP of the Rolling Stone writers’ stable — knows he can’t completely gloss over the seamy, abrasive, riveting spectacle Reed made of himself in those early post-VU years ... DeCurtis has put in commendable spadework, exhuming everything he can about Reed’s early years, from his simultaneously impudent, sitcom-esque, and damaged midcentury Long Island adolescence to the embryonic but recognizable Lou Reed ... While he’s skillful at assembling the biographical building blocks that reward interest at a casual level, his book isn’t just short on dirt. It’s short on resonance, advocacy, identification, deep-dive cultural spelunking, provocative arguments, nuance, fervor, and everything else that sums up the difference between perspective and an actual point of view, particularly when the subject is an artist as gnarly and passion-provoking as Lou Reed ... f there’s an interestingly phrased sentence anywhere in DeCurtis’s book, good luck finding it. As usual, he’s capable, intelligent, suave, informed, readable — and bloodless.
RaveBookforumThat’s just one of dozens of droll lines in Litt’s Thanks, Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years, which could be the funniest White House memoir you’ll ever read ... Unless Monica Lewinsky was a rabid Rue McClanahan fan, he may be the only person ever to sing the theme from The Golden Girls in the Oval Office for POTUS's enlightenment. For just that reason, his take on Obama’s personality and temperament has some interesting wrinkles ... the book also provides some nicely monitored close-up views of Obama’s gradations of impatience when other people aren’t ... Litt is at his most attractive when he indulges his readers’ craving for inside dope on all the stupid, menial details of everyday life inside the ultimate power bubble ... Litt is a first-rate, self-deprecating cutup, but he didn’t fall in love with Obama in 2008 because he dreamed of writing presidential one-liners. He was a hope-and-change true believer.
MixedThe Barnes & Noble ReviewWhile good biographies of individual presidents are easily come by, engrossing studies of the office’s evolving nature and reach are rare. Even so, he isn’t the first political scientist whose worthwhile insights end up falling victim to his preordained schema ... Aside from the misjudgment of treating JFK/LBJ and then Clinton/Obama as conjoined twins, which is wrongheaded coming and going, too many intervening figures are left out because they don’t fit Suri’s argument ... He also can’t resist the urge to be prescriptive, at whatever cost to his own frequent intelligence about the untidy way circumstance makes hash of such formulas ... As perceptive as The Impossible Presidency often is about the executive branch’s past, Suri’s guesses about the job’s future aren’t any better than anyone else’s — aside, maybe, from those of us who decided on Election Night 2016 that guesswork is a fool’s errand anyhow.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...a book that does impressive triple duty as an acute portrait of stardom, an insightful chronicle of three rambunctious decades of pop-culture evolution, and a very brainy fan’s notes ... His big-picture commentary is so compressed and fluid that you often scarcely notice how casually he’s able to switch from micro to macro and back inside a single paragraph. As celebrity biographers go, he’s humane but not easily fooled. As a critic, he’s especially sharp and engaging when he’s breaking down Letterman’s trademark predilections.
RaveThe Barnes & Noble Review\"Frankel is a lively and original social historian first and foremost, and this is an expertly detailed, occasionally revelatory reconstruction of a time (1951), a place (Los Angeles), and a fraught political milieu (the Red Scare traumatizing movieland’s idealistic if foolish Commies, ex-Commies, and liberals alike). It’s also a sympathetic but trenchant set of portraits of the key players involved in bringing High Noon to the screen ... What makes the book compelling is the rich texture of everybody’s back-stories and Frankel’s rendering of the larger picture, from the appeal of Communism in the 1930s to the looming demise of the studio system and the politics of hysteria that gave the HUAC clout. Even readers broadly familiar with the era’s history will enjoy Frankel’s knack for the right summarizing detail or revealing quote as he sets the scene ... The case Frankel tries to make for the movie’s greatness is unlikely to sway skeptics ... Instead, the book is most impressive in how skillfully it turns High Noon into a many-faceted, still resonant cultural artifact, as well as a signal moment in the careers of everyone involved.\
PanBookforumAudacity itself is pretty darn windy, at least as rock-star souvenir merch goes. Timed to hit bookstores three days before Obama leaves office, Chait's book is the polemical equivalent of a T-shirt marketed to capitalize on some iconic performer's farewell tour—bragging, in this case, 'I was right all along,' more or less. Odds are it won't survive a half-dozen trips to the laundromat, by which I mean posterity's eventual judgment of Obama's presidency, but we all know these tchotchkes aren't designed to last. To whatever extent Obama 'transformed' America, future chief executives—and Congresses—could easily untransform it right back, meaning it's a mug's game to try telling snowflakes from cement as yet. That makes Audacity's big claims more than a bit premature ... in his eagerness to contradict Leftworld's bummed-out idealists, Chait's own ostensibly sobersided evaluations of Obama's successes can verge on the Panglossian ... When Chait can't laud Obama, he doesn't say much at all ... On its own terms, Audacity isn't a terrible book. After all, Chait is no dummy. But it is a rushed and overhasty one, even to a reader more likely to agree with him than not—too abstract to evoke the flavor of the Obama years, but too sketchy and tendentious to be a valuable analysis of his presidency.
Chris Smith & Jon Stewart
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewUnsurprisingly, he comes off awfully well in Smith’s cast-of-dozens chronicle...With a few disgruntled exceptions, practically everybody who ever worked for The Daily Show — and Smith seems to have talked to almost all of them — lauds his decency, creative smarts, and constant drive to bring out the best they had on tap ... Predictably, [John] Oliver — who was on track to be Stewart’s successor until Comedy Central let him slip away to HBO — is the most entertaining contributor to Smith’s collage ... DS was so obviously the signature TV series of its generation that this book’s rare carping voices are almost a relief, in that keeping-things-honest way. If damn near everyone else sounds a bit in awe of what their unlikely Godfather wrought, no wonder.
PanBookforumIf he’s now a fervent Clintonista, chalk up another win for Bill’s legendary skill at beguiling people ... Because he’s still a solid reporter, he builds a solid case for Clinton’s achievements since leaving office. Starting with the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative, which saved innumerable lives in Africa and elsewhere, some of them have been worthy indeed. Still, one could wish somebody had told Conason to put a sock in the special pleading that gives the game away ... Once Conason finds a way of putting Clinton in a good light, he doesn’t have a lot of appetite for delving into distracting ambiguities and ramifications, a pattern repeated throughout Man of the World ... [Conason] comes off here as their shill.
PanThe Barnes & Noble ReviewThe good news for devotees of suspense novelist Alan Furst is that his latest book, A Hero of France, is a lot like his last nine or ten. Nah, why beat around the bush? In every significant way, it’s exactly like them ... his reprises of the same scenario have gone from stimulating to predictable to damn near stupefying ... Furst is peddling awfully moldy fantasies of the romance of it all. Those fantasies unmistakably entrance him, which is how come you can’t call him a hack. But he owes his reputation to disguising them with artfully oblique writing and a patina of quasi-documentary verisimilitude ... Like all of his work, A Hero of France has many nice touches. Furst is never inelegant; that’s one more of his vices ... his work is also a reminder that any historical past we haven’t known firsthand is bound to turn into Disneyland sooner or later. Even so, it’s striking how Furst steers clear of dramatizing his chosen epoch’s genuine atrocities.
PanThe Barnes & Noble Review...once the excitement of his self-reinvention leading the band he named Wings is over and done with Paul McCartney: The Life becomes a bit of a slog, though that’s not Norman’s fault. He’s just got to march his readers through a whole bunch of frequently winsome but mostly inconsequential albums, along with pages of stuff about Linda the animal rights activist and vegetarian entrepreneur and the couple’s many houses ... Regrettably, beyond some standard-issue truisms about the cute one’s melodic facility and penchant for whimsy, Norman doesn’t have the chops for a serious evaluation of McCartney’s music or his place in pop history ... All the same, his book does convey a strong enough sense of McCartney’s temperament and life priorities to give readers a new understanding of how utterly they’re reflected in his art.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...no previous biographer has so expertly and convincingly analyzed Welles the creative dynamo, from his ebullient love of what Callow calls 'Higher Hokum' to the depths of rue in his recurring themes of loss and betrayal ... One-Man Band is an exhilarating reminder that his true greatness began once he’d put Kane’s virtuoso precocity behind him.
PositiveThe Barnes & Noble ReviewSumming up his works and days in just 137 pages of genial reckonings and vignettes, it’s such a nonchalant little charmer that I happily read it twice in an afternoon...if you’re in the market for latter-day misgivings about what Zionism wrought, this is not the book for you. But the man has spent his career romanticizing the United States every bit as sunnily, so no surprises there.