RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... a jarring accomplishment. It’s a heroic attempt to explicate the essential nature of thinking that overturns assumptions, pricks human pride, and maybe even puts a scare into the reader. It’s also an energetic exposition that begins as a biology lesson and winds up offering an evolutionary argument for kindness. It will almost surely change your mind about the mind. ... The authors are two scientists — Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam — who succeed in making complex ideas accessible to the general public ... The book is full of startling, delightful insights.
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksEach part is engaging, entertaining, and enlightening. But the whole doesn’t offer a coherent experience: It’s more like three disconnected rambles than a single trip to a fixed destination ... Junger is best known for his multi-year New York Times bestseller, The Perfect Storm, which was turned into a blockbuster movie of the same name. Critics likened him to Ernest Hemingway after that early triumph, and the comparison is warranted. His prose offers the same nervous constraint, the same explosive calm ... As with Hemingway’s style, Junger’s distinctive voice might, in the mischievous mind, inspire parody alongside admiration ... The saga ends enigmatically, with an anticlimactic failure to achieve a desired goal. But that failure perhaps provides a further insight into the nature of freedom — and an argument for the book’s disjointed structure. Acceptance of the random nature of our existence may be what truly sets us free.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of Books... [a] galloping new narrative ... As a history buff who unrealistically expects order in past events, I was always irrationally disturbed that the U.S./Mexican expedition occurred in the midst of Europe’s Great War. It seemed to me as if every war should have the stage to itself. But Guinn makes clear that these two conflicts, far from intruding on each other’s independent storyline, were instead closely connected ... Guinn offers both the light and dark of key characters ... Guinn’s unhappy conclusion is that little has fundamentally changed at the border. Americans still complain of Mexican incursion, but as he illustrates with a disturbing quote near the book’s end, those complaints are often rooted in a continued refusal to accept the basic humanity of our southern neighbors.
David O. Stewart
MixedWashington Independent Review of BooksFor some, Washington’s slaveholding disqualifies him from admiration. Stewart obviously doesn’t share that view, but neither does he let his subject off easy ... Stewart’s writing is reliably fluid and steady; the few repetitions, omissions, and errors stick out as novelties. And his clear command of the material often leads to interesting insights ... But Stewart strains at times to support his proposition...that Washington played the central role in almost every stage of America’s efforts to achieve independence and create a new government.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of BooksAnyone confused by the struggle over Hong Kong — the former British colony of Chinese people resisting Chinese control — could glean some insight from Champions Day: The End of Old Shanghai, the story of another Sino-British enclave that eventually reverted to native rule. In it, author James Carter offers a clear-eyed, nuanced view of colonialism that’s a useful contribution to today’s long-overdue reckoning with racism ... Carter’s fluent prose evokes the stylish colonial era without ever whitewashing its devastating impact on people of color ... Still, the book’s theme of East meets West is noted too often, and sections dealing with a multitude of hard-to-keep-straight characters drag. And, though well crafted, the detailed descriptions of decades-old horse races will grip only the most dedicated railbird. A few editing and historical errors have crept in, too, such as implicitly downgrading Japan from nation to city ... But these are small matters. We are all now being reminded that race relations is a deeply layered phenomenon. By excavating one of those layers for closer examination, Champions Day adds to the vital discourse.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksSometimes the anthropomorphizing is quite explicit...But in other instances, Hardyment’s thesis seems strained ... Ideally, the consumer of Novel Houses will have read all the books it discusses, and undoubtedly, there are many omnivorous fiction fans out there who have. A history and politics buff, I’m not one of them ... Happily, both for members of the unread masses like me and those needing their memory jogged, the essays’ synopses not only inform but spur a desire to read (or reread) the whole book being considered. Like CliffsNotes, Hardyment’s essays can either satisfy or inspire, depending on your level of ambition ... In her introduction, Hardyment declares herself \'fascinated [by] well-established\' houses, the kind that become \'second skins, [defenses] against the world, nests.\' Her brisk, deft writing displays that fascination, along with an obvious affection for old, eccentric houses and the people who live in and love them. Her capsule biographies of the books’ authors emphasize their relationships with domiciles — sometimes sad, sometimes lucky, often yearning — and are especially intriguing ... grammatical sticklers from both sides of the Pond will be bugged by frequent, uncertain antecedents and dangling participles that lead kings to meet themselves, characters to change sex and take action after death, and Hawthorne to perform his duties as a customs officer in an attic bedroom ... Choosing a single element of a story through which to understand it is a well-established tool of analysis and one well executed here.
Julian Smith and David Wolman
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksWhile sketching the backgrounds of the people who eventually collide in the cinematic climax of this fish-out-of-water, underdog narrative, the authors touch on several important themes ... The authors unfurl their story with the easy precision of an expert roper. Characters are clearly but simply etched (humble cowboy, loud promoter), as might be expected in a book largely drawn from breathless contemporary press accounts and family legend.
Gordon H. Chang
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... a meticulous, sincere effort to restore to the public mind the lives and struggles of the Chinese workers who made possible one of the great engineering miracles of the age ... Throughout the book, Chang uses his scholarship and empathy to try to make up for the frustrating lack of firsthand accounts and succeeds in painting a vivid picture of the past.