PositiveLos Angeles Review of BooksSundaram’s greatest gift as a writer is a flat prose style, so drained of emotional subtlety that it creates a mood of intense creepiness. One gets the impression of a tale told by a teller with hollow and empty eyes. The oddly detached writing style serves the book well ... Readers expecting conventional wartime journalism won’t find it here, nor will they find any rigid examinations of the heart or a convincing autopsy of why an overseas correspondent’s marriage comes to an end (a common fate). What they’ll find instead is a unique snapshot of one of the world’s forgotten zones.
RaveLos Angeles Review of Books... terrific ... the eccentrics, ideologues, wags, alcoholics, malcontents, and dreamers who churned out reams of magnificently reported prose is a story well worth telling ... Borchert writes evocatively, even lovingly, about Washington, DC, in the 1930s, a place of creative ferment emerging from its lingering Southern provincialism into status as a global city ... Republic of Detours also serves as a snapshot of American literary culture in the Depression, thanks to Borchert’s accretion of details about his writer-subjects and the conflicted personalities behind the smoothed-out prose ... Borchert writes perceptively about the new form of racial manners [Richard] Wright encountered ... Borchert writes with a perceptive eye ... Borchert has done heroic work in the archives, mining long-neglected letters and dull government reports for the same type of life-giving detail that this school of national literary history, and its thoughtful conceivers, thrived upon.
RaveLos Angeles Review of BooksIn her explosive and devastatingly convincing new book, Michela Wrong contends that this is a result of the original sin coming home to roost once more. Western journalists and governments have selected their good guy in dictator Paul Kagame while ignoring his appalling human rights abuses, targeted assassinations, exported violence, and offenses against the rule of law that would be condemned anyplace else ... Wrong’s myth-busting book does three things. It provides a lucid readout of one of the swampiest geopolitical stories on the African continent: Rwanda’s political realignment after an invading Tutsi army took over the country from a genocidal Hutu junta in 1994 amid a high stack of innocent victims killed by both sides. It’s also a murder mystery — except it is no mystery — about the state-sponsored killing of Rwanda’s former spy chief in a South African luxury hotel in 2014. And it is the first clear-eyed biography of the enigmatic man at the center of both: Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who comes across in these pages not as the investor-friendly savior of his country but as a cold-blooded authoritarian with a fatal streak of insecurity, willing to take any measure to stay in power ... [Wong\'s] opinions and literary temperament are the opposite of hotheaded; her considered demeanor lends weight to her devastating verdict on the Rwanda myth. This volume was four years in the making, and she seems to have talked to just about anyone available, in and out of East Africa, to unearth details of Kagame’s formative years never told in more hagiographic accounts ... One of Wrong’s major points in the book is that a peculiar kind of racism may be in play when the West looks at Kagame. He stopped the murders and created a humming economy, went the reasoning. The low expectations made the human rights abuses a trifling afterthought ... Wrong’s book is an eloquent and entirely convincing plea for that same glaze not to come over the world’s eyes when uncomfortable truths are told.
PositiveLos Angeles TimesThis book is meant to be wandering and bird’s-eyed; not a comprehensive treatment but an impressionist view, a history-by-milestone method ... Winchester is at his most entertaining in a chapter on the Polynesian pastime of riding waves on long wooden boards ... Winchester [adds] authority and panache to the narrative ... Winchester has prodigious gifts as a popular historian and an explainer of faraway events. His book is an admirable portrait of what lies beyond the gray sheet off California’s edge, an unquiet realm increasingly at the center of 21st century history.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThis is primarily a construction saga, albeit a highly readable one set in an anxious nation that didn’t know it needed Disneyland until Walt provided it ... No detail is too small for Snow ... therefore a disappointment that [Snow] includes only an alphabetical list of books and articles instead of endnotes, especially in a narrative full of reconstructed scenes that cries out for firmer sourcing ... Snow also includes remembrances of the Disneyland from his childhood that would be perfectly at home in an afterword, but he lodges them distractingly in the second chapter. And for a book, like many others of its historical genre, that purports to show how its subject \'changed the world,\' he gives only brief treatment to the multiple criticisms of Disneyland and its effect on American life. Some of these attacks come from academic reactionaries, certainly, but the park’s social legacy calls for more conscientious treatment than three pages, which is significantly less attention than Snow gives to Walt’s extended haggle with television networks. Despite these minor shortcomings, the pacing is well-timed ... a worthy peek behind the drapes.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewRutkow paints convincing portrayals of technocrat-heroes like Logan Page and Thomas MacDonald at the federal road office, who handled their jobs with efficiency and prudence even while commanding staggering amounts of money. At times, the book reads like an executive summary of the various conferences organized to promote the highway, while potentially colorful episodes are brushed over. Rutkow is a superb fact-hunter ... Yet not every quotation about the highway feels necessary to the story, and there’s a paucity of description of the road itself or its surrounding landscape. And for such a well-researched book about a bicontinental project, there’s another strange omission. The route through South America receives precious little attention, with almost all the focus trained on United States policy toward road-building in Central America. Rutkow is a graceful writer with a penchant for well-placed classical allusions, yet he possesses a distracting literary tic: a heavy reliance on the adverb \'finally,\' which occasionally occurs twice on the same page ... The narrative finds its highest velocity near the end, with a fascinating section on a North Carolina schoolteacher’s efforts to bushwhack his way through the Darien Gap, and Richard Nixon’s stated desire to drive the finished road himself in time for the 1976 bicentennial.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review\"...it goes a long way toward dispelling the image of Theroux as a long-suffering misanthrope setting out on the rails and the roads yet again. What emerges instead is a portrait of an optimist with curiosity and affection for humanity in all its forms, as well as a ravenous appetite for the literary efforts of others ... Taken together, these essays draw a picture of a cheerful polymath thoroughly enjoying even those conversations that he later pretends to find tiresome.\
RaveThe Los Angeles TimesThis spiritualization of corporeal feelings is the idea at the heart of Ghostland, a book that repeats this thesis over and over again, but does so in such creative and even ingenious ways that the reader pays no mind to that lingering echo in the basement ... Part of the special delight of Ghostland is its many informed asides, revealing Dickey’s long hours of spading up obscure facts and quotes.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewMost of these stories are already well known, and MacQuarrie might have been better off choosing less well-traveled paths, but he writes smartly and engagingly and with a sense of populist enthusiasm about the variety of South America’s life and landscape.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewIt...reads like a particularly long issue of The Economist — strong in terms of background, authority and seamlessness of prose. But there’s not much in the way of the unexpected and not much reported from the 21st century, since Ziegler’s focus is squarely on the deeds of past centuries.