PanThe Wall Street JournalMr. Bullough, a lively and clever writer, has alighted on a lively and clever metaphor around which he builds Butler to the World. His metaphor, alas, can’t sustain the weight of a book and must be stretched and contorted to cover too much ground. It would have been more effective in an op-ed essay or a pamphlet. A more serious problem lies in Mr. Bullough’s distinct antipathy to capitalism. He dislikes money-making and rich people, not just kleptocrats ... Where Mr. Bullough’s book has real value is in its accounts of some truly awful people—the kleptocrats and oligarchs who should have been his sole focus ... a book by a man who imagines money everywhere to be stashed (my pejorative verb, not his). And this money, inherently distasteful, evades taxes and works always secretly for some nefarious purpose. His is a Manichaean view of wealth, part Boy Scout, part Thomas Piketty ... Mr. Bullough melds the Clean Rich with the Dirty Rich, making them one consolidated cadre of avarice and turpitude. And in doing so, he concludes that the provision of any service to the rich—whether by bankers or lawyers or, for that matter, butlers—is just one big groveling disgrace.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalTo many readers, all of this will seem both obvious and somewhat reductive. For all its density of detail and flourish of erudition, the book falls short of its promise to make a truly original case that Britain’s geography has been its destiny—any more than geography has been Japan’s, to name another proud island-nation.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalStripped of its academic aura, A Brief History of Equality is pure Bernie Sanders or AOC...In truth, Mr. Piketty may even be to their left ... Behind Mr. Piketty’s analysis is a rigid righteousness that regards equality as a moral pinnacle and inequality as repugnant. He sees today’s socialists as the successors to the anti-colonialists, abolitionists and suffragists of the past. Capitalists, by contrast, are modern-day enslavers, heirs to a legacy of oppression. Mr. Piketty also dodges important questions.
PositiveWall Street Journal[An] admirable book ... [Guha] is a man of the liberal left, as can be seen in his attempt to liken his Western champions of Indian freedom to the foreigners who volunteered to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Some readers will be unconvinced by the analogy ... Mr. Guha makes plain his admiration for these seven \'white-skinned heroes and heroines of India’s past,\' as he describes them.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Sen’s gentle memoir is studded with recollections of this sort, little episodes that shed light on the distant nooks of a long life of distinction ... Stirred in with Mr. Sen’s memories, which are bright in their detail and freshness, are meditations of various sorts ... The most compelling chapters of Mr. Sen’s memoirs are, in truth, not the ones that focus on his professorial life but those that dwell lovingly—even languorously—on his childhood and schooling.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMs. Ypi’s story is confounding and also beautiful ... What isn’t open to question...even as we agonize over her adult politics—is the sweetness and charm of Ms. Ypi’s own story. Her memory, rich with personal and social detail, is remarkable. Free proceeds as a series of vignettes, each serving as a parable that sheds light on what it was like to grow up under the gaze of the Communist Party.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal... a pugnacious little book—part reportage, part autobiographical manifesto—written by a man whose conscience is frozen in time. That judgment isn’t meant as a put-down. It’s a way of saying that the moral compass of its author, the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, appears not to have been reset since he graduated from the École Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1971 ... Mr. Lévy’s account of his intellectual formation is littered with the names of French philosophers, poets, historians and economists, many of whom will be unfamiliar to Anglophone readers ... If the first part of The Will to See, in which Mr. Lévy examines the sources that shaped his thinking, is written in an auto-interrogatory Gallic style, the second part—the reportage—is suffused with a passion and indignation that is altogether more accessible. His dispatch from Bangladesh, which he revisited in March 2020, is a powerful essay that wastes no time on sterile objectivity ... It is clear that Mr. Lévy imagines what his life would be like if he were a student today; and it’s no surprise that he prefers to write and travel as if the present time were 1971 all over again. His are the principles—and sometimes the conceits—of another age, and he takes them with him wherever he goes.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal[McWhorter\'s] book is a cry from the heart, and readers should gauge the depth of his indignation from the fact that its working title was F*** ’Em ... Mr. McWhorter’s target audience is, precisely, the one that would regard him as racially incendiary ... This is a tonic to hear, of course. Yet to some weary Americans, resigned to seeing wokeness end jobs and wreck reputations, Mr. McWhorter may sound naive or overoptimistic.
Howard W French
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... while Born in Blackness is a very personal book—written with a steely and elegant indignation—it is also an impressively detailed historical account of the role of Africa and Africans in the development of Europe and the Americas ... If the strength of Mr. French’s book lies in its quiet but adamant righteousness, it rests also in its empirical force.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalWith ruminative gracefulness, [Thubron] describes his eastward ... No detail escapes Mr. Thubron, whether botanical, atmospheric or homicidal...But his explorer’s eye fastens just as swiftly on the ugliness of the Amur’s human past ... Mr. Thubron is unsparing in his account of a massacre in the Russian town of Blagoveshchensk in 1900 ... While more at home in the company of Russians, whose language he speaks, Mr. Thubron is elegantly neutral on these demographic questions. Where he does show a bias—bordering on rapture—is in his love for the river. As he basks in the vast emptiness of the lands that are its cradle, you can’t help thinking that the world of the Amur is the perfect country for old men.
Pablo Neruda trans. by Hardie St. Martin and Adrian Nathan West
MixedThe Wall Street JournalIt is impossible not to feel a thrill of expectation upon opening The Complete Memoirs by Pablo Neruda. But once a reader discovers what’s actually on its pages, the title’s claim of completeness—with its promise of juicy restorations and the accretion of long-lost chapters written by the great Chilean poet—seems no better than a gimmick to sell afresh a book that was first published in English translation 44 years ago ... Readers who know their Neruda will contend that only one textual addition—which deals plainspokenly with the homosexuality of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca—truly adds value. Which is fine, of course, because the original version—let us not call it \'incomplete\'—is a deliciously self-serving and unabashed narrative account of the poet’s life, loves, grudges, contempt and ideology. It is stunningly vain in places yet always beautiful...
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... admirable ... painstaking in its detail, harrowing in the stories it tells ... For all its narrative anguish and its inventories of Nazi barbarism, this is an uplifting tale, suffused with a karmic righteousness that is, at times, exhilarating ... Ms. Frankel knows how to spin a saga expertly. And she does so here with just the right infusion of sentiment, careful to steer clear of mawkishness and exaggeration—excesses to which a lesser writer could so easily have fallen prey ... Ms. Frankel’s chronicle of their fugitive life in the forest is gripping, a master class in conveying tension. Gripping, too, are her accounts of the moral compromise that Jews had to make to avoid capture.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... a jigsaw story, pieced together from interviews Ms. Shackle conducted between 2015 and 2019 with five Karachiites who are, in her view, broadly representative of the city’s demographic types ... Ms. Shackle’s dramatis personae tell tales that teach us not only of Karachi’s mighty hardships but also of the breathtaking humanity that lies beneath the city’s hellish carapace ... Although Ms. Shackle confines herself to Karachi, her book is no less exhaustive in its examination of the confounding complexities of Pakistan’s society. By the end, a reader is on intimate terms with her characters, willing them on in their fight to survive and their endeavor to keep indignity at bay.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal\"... an absorbing and humane account of how the long-ago ancestors of modern-day Scandinavians—the Vikings—shaped Europe as warriors and how, later, their more orderly descendants left a profound cultural and material mark on the U.S. as immigrants ... If the book’s title reflects Mr. Herman’s nakedly romantic commitment to his story and people, its subtitle—\'How Scandinavians Conquered the World\'—brings to mind his best-known work, How the Scots Invented the Modern World (2001). At a time when academic historians slice their subjects into slivers so specialized that there’s often nothing left of popular interest in their theses, readers should give thanks to historians like Mr. Herman, for whom there’s nothing more important than to tell a good story that ranges over many centuries and to tell it in vigorous prose ... Handsome in conception, too, are Mr. Herman’s chapters on the Scandinavians’ migration to America.
PositiveWall Street JournalAkash Kapur’s Better to Have Gone is a haunting and elegant account of this attempt at utopia and of his family’s deep connections to it ... The beauty of Mr. Kapur’s story lies in our conviction, by the end, that he and his wife have found most of the answers they were looking for.
Peter L W Osnos
PositiveWall Street JournalYet it helps Mr. Osnos that we’re taught not to judge a book by its cover but by the pages within. And there he takes us on a personal journey, one that is often charming, and—true to the book’s subtitle, \'Watching History Happen\'—brimming with ringside-stories from the world of journalism, letters and politics ... Mr. Osnos retraces every step of consequence in his life, returning not just to Vietnam, Moscow and London—where he was a correspondent for the Post—but also to his parents’ native Poland and to India.
MixedThe Wall Street JournalMr. Marzorati gives us a book that is so reverential that it teeters on the edge of hagiography ... Mr. Marzorati attempts to explain away her comportment, ascribing a certain political nobility to the acts of rage on the court for which she has become notorious ... It is a shame that Mr. Marzorati can’t detach himself from racial apologias ... This racial reductiveness is a pity, because the story of Ms. Williams is truly uplifting, on a par with that of Condoleezza Rice.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal[Tett] comes pretty close to asserting that a field that arose in the 19th century to help the imperial West confirm the \'inferiority\' of colonized people, and that changed in the mid-20th century into the polar opposite of its colonizing origins, is a panacea for our present-day ills. Some may find this claim too sweeping; others will be swept along by her enthusiasm ... Her conclusions are bright and buoyant—cynics might say a little blithe.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Phillips has written a humane and thoughtful book, devoid of the sort of posturing that mars the debate over the repatriation of objects brought to the West during the colonial era ... Mr. Phillips is much more nuanced than the authors of a report commissioned by President Macron of France, who said that their country should give back \'any objects taken by force or presumed to be acquired through inequitable conditions\' ... By contrast, Mr. Phillips regards the return of stolen artifacts—today preserved in world-class museums in conditions their native lands couldn’t match—as a process of gradual and civilized negotiation.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe fact that The Powerful and the Damned is self-serving and egotistical doesn’t mean that it is not an enjoyable book, at times quite delicious ... The book is a memoir of Mr. Barber’s time as boss, and like many English editors of his generation, he is rarely unassuming ... From an amusing (but inescapable) perspective, this could be said to be a book about Mr. Barber’s nonstop hobnobbing ... a kinder way to describe him would be as a world-class schmoozer ... Mr. Barber is no stylist. His writing, often jaunty, is seldom elegant ... The most attractive parts of The Powerful and the Damned —apart from the recherché gossip—are those where Mr. Barber professes guilt for not doing as well as he should have done as an editor ... A braggart he may be, and unquestionably in love with himself, but he’s never delusional.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... a reader would have to be ice-cold of heart not to pause to take a sorrowful breath ... Mr. Ireland may be too generous here. For all its scrupulous portraiture, a mere biography could not, alas, repair so much damage or redeem so wrecked a life.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIn one of many audacious assertions in a book that tells the story of Britain from 1952 to the present day, Andrew Marr writes that if Shakespeare was \'the hot-glowing cultural figure of the first Elizabethan age, then the Beatles—John, Paul, George and Ringo—performed a parallel role in the second.\' ... The packaging of Britain’s story into a \'reign’s length\' is attractive nonetheless, because it acknowledges that Queen Elizabeth has been the one truly constant factor in a nation that has been an outlier among major Western powers ... Mr. Marr has written an ambitious book in which he accords more attention to subtle social shifts than he does to \'the big, visible changes\' —things such as the disappearance of bowler hats, the emptying of churches and the springing up of mosques, of which we know already ... Elizabethans is an affectionate account of a singular kingdom whose flaws Mr. Marr seldom ignores. His evaluation strikes a note of humility. Cast aside illusions, he says, and forget absurd ambitions.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... takes the seemingly banal into the realm of the profound ... honest and beautiful ... In the hands of someone less subtle and humane, Ms. Hakakian’s exercise could be seen as presumptuous. Hers is a \'guide,\' yes, but of an amicable kind. She offers counsel to readers, not commandments, and although her book could be seen as a love letter to America, it is one that’s been written by an exacting lover who isn’t blind to this country’s flaws ... She is not above poking gentle fun.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Brennan is altogether too true to the terms of his project, and his commitment to an examination of Said’s brainy side is (for the most part) fulfilled at the expense of the human dimension. Although his account of Said’s early years is rich with beguiling family particulars, Mr. Brennan lays bare much too little of his adult subject beyond his parsing and distillation of the scholarship Said produced in prodigious quantities ... The book is valuable because it skews in a literary direction, drawing readers away from some of the more conventionally celebrated Said fare. But however seductive we may find his aesthetic side—Said was a gifted pianist who forged a friendship with Daniel Barenboim—we cannot grasp Said the man without placing at center stage his adamant and passionate commitment to the Palestinian question. In a most astute observation—one of many in his intense and rewarding book—Mr. Brennan may have hit upon the reason why Said touches a raw nerve with Zionists. \'He was like a photonegative of his Jewish counterparts,\' writes Mr. Brennan. The twin themes they dwelt on—exile and the immigrant experience—were Said’s story too, \'but from a very different angle.\'
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMs. Hirsi Ali acknowledges that her focus on Muslims risks the wrath of sensitivity monitors, but she presses on, arguing that it is best to rob xenophobic parties of a monopoly on the debate by bringing \'this issue out of the taboo zone.\' ... She proposes a raft of solutions, all entirely sensible. Europe must work harder to integrate migrants and must find ways to tie welfare benefits to proof of assimilation. Successful Muslim migrants—of whom there are tens of thousands—must be put forward as role models and exemplars ... Some of Ms. Hirsi Ali’s solutions, however worthy, are impracticable, being projects that require vast transnational cooperation ... Yet Prey is far from an exercise in futile consternation. It is, instead, a courageous and bracing book, even as it makes a reader’s heart sink. Ms. Hirsi Ali will win no friends among the virtuous elites, for whom her entire discussion is forbidden. But she is playing her part in a rebellion that could shape the fate of Europe.
PositiveWall Street JournalMs. Faleiro had set out to write a book about the epidemic of rape that has beset 21st-century India. The issue had first caught the world’s attention in 2012 when a young medical student was abducted in New Delhi, gang-raped in a bus and murdered with indescribable brutality. Ms. Faleiro had intended to focus on that episode, but the more she examined the tragedy of \'Padma Lalli,\' whom everyone presumed had also been raped, the more she was sucked into its vortex—to the exclusion of all else ... The Good Girls is a riveting—sometimes astonishing—work of forensic journalism that chronicles the girls’ lives as well as the circumstances of their death. It highlights the values that prevail in rural north India, particularly the suffocating codes of honor that dictate what women shouldn’t do. In a searing conclusion, Ms. Faleiro compares the Delhi bus rape with the tale of the two hanged girls. The first showed how dangerous public places were for women. The second \'revealed something more terrible still—that an Indian woman’s first challenge was surviving her own home.\'
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAs Dan Morain makes plain in this detailed and dutiful biography, Ms. Harris is notably less moderate (or, if you’d prefer, more progressive) than Mr. Biden—and so, naturally, a source of strength to voters on the left ... Morain is a writer deferential to Ms. Harris. Word choices are telling ... The virtue of Mr. Morain’s book lies not in elegance, to which it makes no claim, nor in its revelations ... It lies, instead, in a prosaic but sturdy completeness of story. Ms. Harris—as is her prerogative—omitted much detail from her own autobiography. Mr. Morain has filled in many of those blanks[.]
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal[Salazar] was the lone \'benevolent autocrat\' in a cohort that comprised Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Stalin. So reckons Tom Gallagher in Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused to Die, a learned and lively biography of a man who governed Portugal for 36 years, running it \'very much like a punctilious head butler in charge of a sprawling country estate\' ... Some readers, among the more unkind perhaps, may see in this biography an apologia of sorts. Most others will view it in a different light: as the humane and open-minded story of a man whose legacy has been erased but who could well be regarded as the most consequential minor statesman of the 20th century.
PositiveWall Street JournalAlthough Mr. Walsh acknowledges the big strategic questions, there isn’t a wonky paragraph in 300 pages. Instead he portrays Pakistan through the stories of nine emblematic people (the \'nine lives\' of his title). A 10th life—Mr. Walsh’s own—is the thread that ties this cast together ... The two most moving of Mr. Walsh’s portraits offer a window on Pakistan’s contrasts.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal... a book that explores the ways in which the field of history \'helped make empire.\' The empire in question is Britain’s; and in her telling of the imperial tale, British historians were the ethical and moral enablers of the statesmen, soldiers and adventurers who would, by cannon and cunning, conquer half the world ... A professor of history at Stanford University, Ms. Satia is notably erudite. She is also achingly progressive. One hesitates to use the term \'woke\' —a plebeian, yet sometimes indispensable, word—to describe a professor whose scholarship is so heartfelt. But there can be no doubting her progressive credentials when she writes that history, once \'the exclusive playground of white men,\' has been much improved by \'the inclusion of women and people of color.\' ... In spite of its unyielding ideology, Ms. Satia’s book is attractive and original. Her core thesis is that a zealous cadre of historians provided moral cover and justification for Britain’s \'liberal imperialism\' —a colonial conceit she believes to be self-contradictory, with its idea of a liberating and paternalistic form of governance that was at once \'unequal, authoritarian, and exploitative.\' History, she says, was central to a framework of ethics that arose with the Enlightenment.
PanThe Wall Street JournalMs. Wilkerson sows confusion in the reader’s mind, however, by declaring that \'caste and race are neither synonymous nor mutually exclusive\' and by using the words almost interchangeably throughout her book ... You would be right to ask how a caste system—so defined—is really that different from a race-based one in the American context. And your fear that Ms. Wilkerson’s thesis—while always elegantly expressed—may rest in part on semantic foundations is borne out by her assertion that she uses \'language that may be more commonly associated with people in other cultures, to suggest a new way of understanding our hierarchy\' ... Ms. Wilkerson sets up her system of caste by shuffling words around and offering what seems at times to be little more than a taxonomical reworking of the language of hierarchy...Yet she never offers a convincing argument for why American history and society are better examined through the lens of caste than of race ... Instead, Ms. Wilkerson seeks to make her case for caste by the repeated assertion that it is a case worth making. When she does seek to explain caste—elaborating on its characteristics and consequences—she often resorts to rhetorical statements that are stirring but not always illuminating ... It is apparent, in any case, that she is writing for those who wouldn’t challenge her assumptions ... Ms. Wilkerson scarcely acknowledges that modern America has made vast strides to address racism, and her swatting down of Donald Trump as \'a cocksure champion for the dominant caste, a mouthpiece for their anxieties,\' lays bare her own politics ... The contradictions in her analysis are apparent: How can the \'deplorables\' belong to the same caste as the woke coastal elite? Wasn’t their cultural disparagement by Mrs. Clinton an expression, precisely, of her feeling that they belonged to a different (and inferior) caste? ... Many readers will be disappointed that Ms. Wilkerson doesn’t focus more on the role that caste plays within races ... Ms. Wilkerson also makes notably little use of \'class\' as a social category ... Ms. Wilkerson, I fear, does not give America its due.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalWhy Ngaba? Why was this \'nothing little town,\' which got its first traffic light only in 2013, \'putting Tibet back in the headlines\'? Why were \'so many of its residents willing to destroy their bodies by one of the most horrific methods imaginable\'? The title of Ms. Demick’s book offers an answer, evoking blasphemous incidents from 1935, the remembrance of which has been kept alive by generations of unforgiving townsfolk ... The human portraits [Demick] paints are touching, often heart-rending ... valuable and elegant.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\'Redaction,\' writes Mr. Baker, \'is a form of psychological warfare directed against historians and journalists.\' You don’t have to embrace his hyperbole to feel his pain ... Out of frustration, first, and then design, Mr. Baker switched from writing a purely investigative book to \'one about life under\' FOIA—a \'diary, or daily meditation, on the pathology of government secrecy.\' In this, he is not altogether successful. The diaristic structure is forced, and sometimes clumsy. He wrote the book’s first draft over nine weeks—from March 9 to May 18, 2019—and presents the writing done on each day as if it were a diary entry. This has the effect of turning a book that began life as an indignant inquisition into a form of forensic narcissism, in which momentous events of the past—wars, killings, hush-ups—seem to be as much about Mr. Baker as about America and its tussles with the communist world during the Cold War ... This impression is compounded by Mr. Baker’s decision to give readers a parallel narrative of his private life alongside his pursuit of evidence that would confirm that the U.S. government acted in ways that were evil ... It is hard to judge the legitimacy of the grand thesis behind Mr. Baker’s FOIA critique. He cites books in support of many of his assertions (though none by the eminent historians of the period), but those books, too, were written without access to the \'truth.\' He thus relies, perforce, on the assertions of the enemy, who all claim, as they would, that the Americans were out to germ them ... And yet you can’t help feeling sympathetic to Mr. Baker’s primordial plight as you read his book. However risible some of his characterizations of people and events, and however hysterical his mistrust of America’s institutions of national security, there is no denying that the pathologically opaque way that FOIA works is a blot on American democracy. Arguably, though, any discussion of transparency needs to contend with the truism that governments, not least the governments of great powers, require some degree of secrecy to function in a dangerous world ... flawed but heartfelt.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... prodigiously detailed and absorbing ... No, [Preston] doesn’t \'suggest\' that Spain is matchless in terms of venality and political ineptitude, at least among the nations of Western Europe. He practically shrieks it from the rooftop ... It is a robust democracy, for all its problems with separatism in Catalonia; and a reader might want to chide Mr. Preston for not always acknowledging that laudable fact. Yet corruption is Mr. Preston’s theme, and he sticks to it like a limpet. His thesis—that the Spanish elites have let the people down time and again—is not entirely original ... Yet the diablo is in Mr. Preston’s detail. The account of corruption in his tale is encyclopedic, and its scale vast ... Mr. Preston does underplay the effect of Spain’s opening up to the outside world—more from necessity than anything else—in the second half of Franco’s dictatorship ... One can’t but conclude that Mr. Preston has just thrown up his hands—and resigned in exhaustion.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe statistics Ms. Shah marshals are eye-catching ... Ms. Shah’s book, at times tendentious, is always humane ... There are a few places in this thoughtful and eloquent book in which readers will take issue with Ms. Shah’s narrative. For instance, having made the perfectly good assertion that economists have \'long struggled to detect\' any negative economic effect of migrants on locals, she makes the overwrought claim that, in a 2015 study, George Borjas, a Harvard economist, \'overturned\' a near-consensus on the positive nature of migration. Mr. Borjas is a longstanding pessimist when it comes to immigrant labor’s effect on U.S. wages. And while his work isn’t scoffed at by other economists, it is not embraced either. He is an academic outlier.
PanThe Wall Street JournalMs. Lalami’s is a short book, 160-odd pages of often elegantly expressed (and exasperating) paranoia. Portions of it have appeared, she acknowledges, in publications like the Nation, whose flavor her text seems most clearly to carry. She is, in fact, a columnist at the Nation; and in keeping with the locutions of that progressive-dissident magazine, she writes of the \'Los Angeles uprisings\' in the wake of the Rodney King beating by the police in 1991 and of \'Latinx motorists\' being stopped more frequently than whites by Border Patrol agents. Although the book feels, at times, to be a stitching together of disparate essays, it does have a clear thread that runs right through from start to finish ... It’s hard to avoid the sense that Ms. Lalami is playing down her privilege for polemical advantage. Elsewhere she repurposes the notion of privilege by slackening its definition ... Reading Conditional Citizens, you become convinced not merely that Ms. Lalami is unwilling to recognize that any racial and social progress has occurred in America since the days of the Founding Fathers but also that her Manichaean eye regards a glass as entirely empty if it’s not entirely full. And for all her writerly elegance, you also come to see her as somewhat picayune in her judgment of other human beings—even as she makes her grander pitch for racial justice ... Failure to interpret is, in truth, a charge one might level against Ms. Lalami herself: a failure to interpret America. It is the kindest of charges, in the circumstances.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... gives us a superb trove of detail, some of it astonishing. Part of its impressive story-building is the result of Mr. Craske’s conversations with everyone alive who knew Shankar well. It has helped, too, that Mr. Craske collaborated with the Indian superstar on his autobiography, published in 1997 ... Mr. Craske is at his best when writing about the least-emphasized aspects of Shankar’s career ... Yet the book excels, too, in those areas of which we’re already aware. Mr. Craske is eloquent on the appeal of the music itself, and explains superbly how the Indian and Western classical idioms are so unlike each other.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... a biography written with generous access to its subject ... Mr. Norman knows the Dalai Lama better than most, having helped him to write his autobiography. His new book is rich, sometimes heaving, with detail; his supple prose, often beautiful, is as adept at explaining Tibet’s theology as it is at describing its spiritual world ... Mr. Norman’s book, while respectful, is not adoring: He doesn’t flinch from offering examples of his subject’s behavior that are awkward.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe charm of this book lies in the fact that it is so obviously the adult sublimation of a boyhood passion for the lands and history of Islam. Mr. Marozzi is now 49, but his prose often has the wonderment of a young man who has devoured a shelf of books and is dying to tell everyone about the things he has read. Like an erudite magpie, he gathers material from every available source—primary texts, both religious and historical, as well as a profusion of secondary ones—and weaves it all together with dexterity ... even as he mourns the current dystopia in Tripoli, Damascus and Baghdad, Mr. Marozzi seeks solace in the fact that there are “echoes” of the old \'restless, cosmopolitan, risk-taking\' spirit in cities such as Dubai. An unabashed romantic, he is too much in love with the Golden Age of Islam to let his present-day anguish mar his attachment to the past.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe structure of the book is clean and attractive. Each dictator gets his own stand-alone chapter of about 30 pages. These are superb mini-biographies, rich in dramatic detail and analysis, and are unspooled in a historical sequence ... And while the book is erudite, its prose lives up to the promise of a lively narrative made by its crowd-pleasing title ... Many readers will regret Mr. Dikötter’s decision to limit his book to eight dictators, and some may question his particular choices for inclusion and exclusion. The absence of a caudillo from the Spanish-speaking world is notable, and whereas Fidel Castro may have been one communist too many for this book, the exclusion of Francisco Franco of Spain or Augusto Pinochet of Chile is a pity ... [Dikötter] had to choose, and he has mostly chosen well, giving us a book of rare insight and expertise, written with humanity, verve and unexpected flashes of humor.
Garrett M. Graff
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe result is remarkable, and Mr. Graff’s curation of these accounts—drawn from hundreds of his own interviews and from the reporting of other journalists and historians—is a priceless civic gift ... On page after page, a reader will encounter words that startle, or make him angry, or heartbroken, or queasy ... it is the goodness of ordinary people that leaves the deepest impression ... In Mr. Graff’s book, the little details are allowed to speak for themselves, and the effect is one of notable eloquence.
RaveThe Times (UK)The hideous story of Jallianwala Bagh has been told often and well...Yet no one has told it quite like Wagner, a professor at Queen Mary University of London. He calls his book \'a microhistory of a global event\', and he is true to his word. Local events from March 30 to April 30, 1919 are examined and parsed into a narrative as he assembles an elaborate forensic jigsaw. In less skilled hands this spare-no-detail approach might well have suffocated readers, but the book is written with a humane commitment to the truth that will impress ... Wagner’s explanations are dispassionate and he adds that \'to explain is not to justify.\' He says that his book will appeal neither to Raj nostalgists, nor to Indian nationalist mythologists.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe author is a professor of geography, but his analysis combines urban planning, economics, anthropology and military history. Yet in 200-odd jargon-free pages, he never strays far from old-fashioned storytelling and an almost childlike love for a singular species ... Those not well versed in contemporary Burmese politics will benefit from (but may occasionally be made dizzy by) Mr. Shell’s expertise, from the ethnic particulars of Kachins, Shans, Karens and Burmans to the intricacies of forestry politics ... The greatest strength of Giants of the Monsoon Forest is its author’s clear-eyed pragmatism. Mr. Shell respects elephants without sentimentalizing them. He notes that the work ethic of Asian elephants is unsurpassed. But he floats the idea that elephants may be as opportunistic as the handlers who sometimes abuse them.
MixedThe TimesSingh’s is a great and riveting story, but Anand hasn’t necessarily delivered it expertly. In her hands, the narrative feels much too often like a rambling yarn, and she has a fondness for the soap operatic in her storytelling. The first third of the book, in which she frames the tale and introduces us to the characters, is sudsy and overwritten. In places Anand is guilty of hyperbole ... And yet, so compelling is the actual story of Singh, so full of remarkable twists and mysteries, that I never felt I should stop reading. I was glad I persevered; once Anand emerges from her descriptions of people and times for which she has to use her imagination to fill the gaps and begins those parts of her narrative for which archival information exists, her book becomes an altogether better one. Windy imaginings are replaced by hard fact and detail, with judicious excerpts from diaries, memoirs, prison records and imperial papers ... There is, at times, too much detail, but I suspect that surfeit is better than the alternative.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalA marvelous—and marvelously ambitious—book ... With finesse, the author dwells on the symbolism of dams in India ... While Mr. Sen’s book is undeniably academic, it is pleasingly written and indisputably the single best text on the Ganges and its history.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Amrith has written a marvelous—and marvelously ambitious—book that sets out to explain how water has shaped the history of Asia. In truth, his narrative is centered on the Indian subcontinent, despite its insightful forays into China’s hydraulic history ... Mr. Amrith begins with a useful geography lesson ... He then proceeds to show what man—through modern history—has done to harness the rivers to his ends ... With finesse, the author dwells on the symbolism of dams in India ... Alongside a broader distribution of water and electricity has come a wrenching disfigurement of the environment and the squalid effects of overuse.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalWe now have two reasons to be grateful to Mr. Roberts: the first is that his is unarguably the best single-volume biography of Churchill (and so good that it makes redundant Martin Gilbert’s multi-volume labors); the second is that, as a result, no reasonable person will write a Churchill biography for years to come ... Mr. Roberts need not oversell the allure of his new regal sources, welcome though they may be. The book is a brilliant feat of storytelling, monumental in scope, yet put together with tenderness for a man who had always believed that he would be Britain’s savior ... Mr. Roberts’s narrative structure follows an unfussy chronological pattern from birth to death, with everything in between. But there’s not a moment’s dullness in this book, with every account of his subject’s many character flaws riveted to a larger context ... For all his erudition, Mr. Roberts is a popular historian, not an academic one, and he writes with the flair of a man who has made a living wielding his words for newspapers and magazines ... The book is an unapologetic tribute to Churchill but not a hagiography ... In response to...morally awkward episodes in Churchill’s life, Mr. Roberts plays the role not of apologist but of explicator ... Alongside this litany of errors, Mr. Roberts counterposes Churchill’s many achievements, not least of which was, if one may put it this way, the salvation of Britain.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThere have been scores of books about India that focus on its poverty, some sensitive and soulful, others frankly execrable. In contrast, very few offer a portrait of Indians with wealth ... In the mid-1990s, India had only two—repeat, two—billionaires, with a paltry $3 billion between them. By 2010, Forbes included 49 on its global list. Today there are over 100, more than any country bar the U.S., China and Russia. The wealth of India’s billionaires currently comprises 15% of the country’s GDP, up from 1% in 1995 ... (Mr. Crabtree) devotes his energies to a study of the Bad Billionaires, those who work in \'rent-thick\' sectors where firms couldn’t possibly make money without access to government favors. The \'raj\' in the title is intended to suggest a \'nexus\'—a word beloved of Indian editorialists—between business and government, akin to the one that bound government to commerce during the state-controlled \'license raj\' that prevailed before 1991. Mr. Crabtree describes in detail the manner in which the billionaires of this cohort got rich with the help of politicians and bureaucrats.
PanThe Wall Street Journal...a treacly blend of bodice-ripping and public relations. There are pages and pages about Camilla’s work for a range of social causes that will make eyes everywhere glaze over. Charitable work can be very boring, especially when recounted in punctilious detail ... Mercifully, Ms. Junor is also an avid observer of the non-philanthropic side of life. She delves into the gilded world of Britain’s aristocracy, with its concentric circles of the well-born and the titled ... Ms. Junor’s prose is breathless ... History, Ms. Junor says, will be a kinder judge of Camilla’s story than her contemporaries have been.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...a riveting book that is, in places, deeply moving ... If there is anyone in the world who still likes Mr. Assange, Mr. O’Hagan’s description of the man should prove curative ... To judge from Mr. O’Hagan’s arresting trio of portraits, society’s online Twilight Zone inspires both despair and humanity—often at the cost of truth and trust.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"Two narratives run through her tale. One, the more arresting—and frequently so painful that a reader has to pause for breath—is the account of her own kin, in which her grandfather, maternal uncle and mother are the main characters. The other is Ms. Gidla’s version of political and historical events. This part of her narrative, it must be said, is often colored by her family’s ideology, which spans the communist gamut from Leninist and Stalinist to Maoist and Naxalite ... This is where Ms. Gidla’s story is so precious—in its descriptions of how her family, and people like them, guarded their own humanity even as others denied it. The dignified Untouchable is a staple of progressive Indian literature, but in this book of nonfiction one reads of real people fighting real cruelty with real courage and grace.\