Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

OMM_07-20-09

New York Times:

  • Sunday Book Review cover: Christopher Benfey on The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes: "In this big two-hearted river of a book, the twin energies of scientific curiosity and poetic invention pulsate on every page.... Though Romanticism, as Holmes says, is often presumed to be 'hostile to science,' the Romantic poets seem to have been positively giddy — sometimes literally so — with scientific enthusiasm. Coleridge claimed he wasn’t much affected by Herschel’s discoveries, since as a child he had been “habituated to the Vast” by fairy tales. It was the second great Romantic field of science that lighted a fire in Coleridge’s mind. 'I shall attack Chemistry, like a Shark,' Coleridge announced, and invited the celebrated scientist Humphry Davy, who also wrote poetry, to set up a laboratory in the Lake District."
  • Maslin on Zero at the Bone by John Heidenry: "As a boy in St. Louis, Mr. Heidenry came into close enough proximity to the kidnapping of 6-year-old Bobby Greenlease in 1953 to have developed an enduring fascination with it. That fascination has yielded a tough, gripping chiller of a book, written straightforwardly yet cloaked with the trappings of pulp fiction. Its noir hallmarks are so stark that it’s not surprising to learn that the two miscreants at the center of the story had read Mickey Spillane. They had no need for escapist fiction. They were living out a tale that beggared Spillane’s most remorseless dreams."
  • Kakutani on In Fed We Trust by David Wessel (and A Colossal Failure of Common Sense by Lawrence McDonald): David Wessel’s new book 'In Fed We Trust' is essential, lucid — and, it turns out, riveting — reading. In this volume Mr. Wessel uses his narrative gifts and a plethora of sources to give readers a vivid, highly immediate sense of what transpired in last-minute, high-pressure, seat-of-their-pants meetings in Washington and New York while placing these events in a broader historical context."
  • Maslin on The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich: "Did Mr. Zuckerberg do anything wrong in pirating Harvard’s data? 'The Accidental Billionaires' does just enough harrumphing about ethics to raise that question. And along those same lines: Has Mr. Mezrich done anything wrong in grossly embellishing, exaggerating and tarting up his material as if he were writing a screenplay? Should the tactics of a script or roman à clef be used for a purportedly nonfiction chronicle?"
  • Malena Watrous on A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias: "The title of this novel is not ironic. This is, fundamentally, the story of a happy marriage. But it’s not simple, because marriage — like love — isn’t static. And Enrique is ruthlessly honest in his quest to figure out what made his last.... Yglesias conveys that caring for your dying wife is no more saintly than changing your baby’s diaper. The human body is a vessel for food and waste, a conduit for warmth and love, and it animates whatever exists inside. The mystery of what’s at the heart of a marriage can’t be unlocked, or even fully captured in words. But Enrique and Margaret are anything but common, distinct both as characters and in the endurance of their love."

Washington Post:

  • Charles on Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold: "In this clever act of biography and fiction, Arnold brings him exuberantly alive: the entertainer, the raconteur, the Wonder Dad -- always brightly dressed, captivating and magnetic, ready with a joke or a silly face. Alfred Gibson, as Dickens is called here, was a ferociously controlling man with boundless energy and an insatiable appetite for affection.... Yes, the world's most popular writer comes off looking rather bad, but that's the easy part. The more difficult and satisfying task, which Arnold handles so effectively, is portraying the intermingling of love and resentment, affection and pettiness, that renders any marriage mysterious to outsiders."
  • Joel Achenbach on Rocket Men by Craig Nelson: "Apollo 11 was something of a stunt, a flags-and-footprints mission in which science got short shrift. But what a stunt! Craig Nelson's new book, 'Rocket Men,' captures the drama and chaos of July 1969 and the almost unbearable tension of the moon landing.... Nelson describes the landing so vividly that the engrossed reader isn't sure that Armstrong and crewmate Buzz Aldrin are going to make it."

Los Angeles Times:

  • Ed Park on 100% by Paul Pope: "The Gotham of this graphic novel ... is nestled somewhere between its incarnations in Thomas M. Disch's beaten-down '334' and Martin Scorsese's antic nightmare 'After Hours.' With a palette dominated by stark black and white, '100%' would be your typical round-the-corner dystopia if everything didn't feel so weirdly alive.... '100%' never feels programmatic. Each relationship comes together or falls apart at its own pace, with its own rhythm and vocabulary."
  • Robert Crais on Get Real by Donald E. Westlake: "In short, Westlake delivers the goods for which he is justifiably famous -- nothing is what it seems, everything that can go wrong does, and the complexity of the heist increases until there is no possible way for Dortmunder to pull off the caper, which is when Westlake surprises us yet again with moves so smart and funny they leave us gasping."

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