... fascinating, immensely readable ... Eakin, though not a professional art historian (he is a senior editor at Foreign Affairs), has mastered this material, read a mountain of sources and synthesized them skillfully, and he manages to braid aesthetics with history with personal details about the leading individuals’ love lives, adulteries and divorces ... Some of his prose tics are irksome, such as providing thumbnail portraits of each character, which all start to sound the same; his novelistic, presumptuous inhabiting of historical people’s interiority in scenes, and his habit of holding off the name of each new person or painting title until he has given a lengthy description of same ... But once Eakin has introduced all the key figures and set them in motion, the book soars. His achievement is keeping the complex plotline moving, while offering sharp insights and astute judgments. He ends the book in dramatic fashion, tracing Rosenberg’s desperate attempt to escape the Third Reich’s tightening grip and relocate to the United States via Portugal — fortunately succeeding, with the aid of a warm letter of support from Alfred Barr.
The story in Picasso’s War is well told, with an impressive level of biographical detail. As a picture of interwar transatlantic cultural exchange, it necessarily (because of the Quinn-Barr hook) leaves out a lot, notably Bauhaus and Dada, both of which had an impact on American art-making and American taste. But, as an account of the means by which Picasso and the styles of painting with which he was associated achieved cultural prestige in the United States, it’s an admirable and enjoyable book ... Does it matter that Eakin doesn’t have much to say about the art that his protagonists are scheming to promote? A little. Artists and writers do not operate in some otherworldly zone. They want recognition. They want sales. Like everyone else in the art world, they are responsive to the social, political, and financial environment, and this affects their artistic choices. Still, what mattered most to the artists Eakin is writing about was the work of their peers and the art of the past which they emulated or reacted against, and that is a subject on which many books have been written ... Eakin also leaves unanswered (and unasked) an obvious question: Why did Americans’ tastes change between 1911 and 1939?