- David Oshinsky on The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson: "Based on more than a thousand interviews, written in broad imaginative strokes, this book, at 622 pages, is something of an anomaly in today’s shrinking world of nonfiction publishing: a narrative epic rigorous enough to impress all but the crankiest of scholars, yet so immensely readable as to land the author a future place on Oprah's couch."
- Ander Monson on How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe by Charles Yu: "Yu is a superhero of rendering human consciousness and emotion in the language of engineering and science.... These pyrotechnics balance the tender moments, creating a complex, brainy, genre-hopping joyride of a story, far more than the sum of its component parts, and smart and tragic enough to engage all regions of the brain and body. As science fiction writers know, sometimes it’s easier to see ourselves clearly in the mirror of technology creep and the future. Yu’s novel is an elegy for that future and those beautiful, broken selves."
- Kakutani on C by Tom McCarthy: "Tom McCarthy’s much ballyhooed first novel, 'Remainder,' was an oddly ingenious book that read like the work of an extremely precocious philosophy student who had read a lot of Robbe-Grillet, Sartre, Camus, Philip K. Dick and Georges Perec.... Very similar themes lie at the heart of his disappointing and highly self-conscious new novel, 'C.' ... [T]his London is evocative of the unreal city famously conjured by T.S. Eliot in 'The Waste Land,' one of those founding documents of modernism that this novel attempts to excavate and deconstruct, but it does so without ever managing to turn them into something provocative or new."
- Leah Hager Cohen on Ape House by Sara Gruen: "Gruen heaps her topical platter high and wastes no time digging in. There is a voracious quality to her storytelling, a dogged delight in excess, and whatever a more contemplative thinker or a sharper satirist might have done with the subject matter, their methods are not hers. 'Ape House' is a busy book, crammed with locations, characters, character types, and the kind of Amazing Coincidences and Surprise Twists that would do Dickens proud. Gruen, subscribing to the more-is-more theory, appears never to have met a plot point she didn’t like, the more outrageous the better, and a glittering plethora of these pile up to keep the novel pitching forward."
- Dan Kois on Skippy Dies by Paul Murray: "Six hundred sixty-one pages may seem like a lot to devote to a bunch of flatulence-obsessed kids, but that daunting length is part and parcel of the cause to which 'Skippy Dies,' in the end, is most devoted. Teenagers, though they may not always act like it, are human beings, and their sadness and loneliness (and their triumphs, no matter how temporary) are as momentous as any adult’s. And novels about them — if they’re as smart and funny and touching as 'Skippy Dies' — can be just as long as they like."
- And please note the debut of Our Own Jeff VanderMeer as the Times's Science Fiction Chronicler, with capsule reviews of four new books this week, including Karen Lord's Redemption in Indigo: "Lord’s first novel is a clever, exuberant mix of Caribbean and Senegalese influences that balances riotously funny set pieces (many involving talking insects) with serious drama initiated by meddlesome supernatural beings.... Throughout, Lord manages to compress her story while balancing the cosmic and the personal — all with a verve that would be the envy of many veteran novelists."
- Dirda on The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal: "'The Hare with Amber Eyes' tells the astonishing story of the Ephrussis' fortunes, ... but his essayistic exploration of his family's past pointedly avoids any sentimentality over the vanished pomps of yesteryear.... "The Hare With Amber Eyes" belongs on the same shelf with Vladimir Nabokov's 'Speak, Memory,' André Aciman's 'Out of Egypt' and Sybille Bedford's 'A Legacy.' All four are wistful cantos of mutability, depictions of how even the lofty, beautiful and fabulously wealthy can crack and shatter." [It's also one of my Best of the Month picks for September: a lovely book.]
- James Trefil on The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow: "[N]ot only is the Earth just one of several planets in our solar system and the Milky Way one of billions of galaxies, but our known universe itself is just one among uncounted billions of universes. It's a startling replay of the Copernican Revolution.... I've waited a long time for this book. It gets into the deepest questions of modern cosmology without a single equation. The reader will be able to get through it without bogging down in a lot of technical detail and will, I hope, have his or her appetite whetted for books with a deeper technical content. And who knows? Maybe in the end the whole multiverse idea will actually turn out to be right!"
- Yardley on Trying to Please by John Julius Norwich: "'Trying to Please' is an absolutely delicious book, in part because Norwich writes so fluidly and engagingly, in part because he has been to so many places and done so many interesting things, and in no small part because he happens to be the only child of one of the most famous and mythologized couples of the first half of the 20th century."
Los Angeles Times:
- Tim Rutten on A Journey by Tony Blair: "One of the things that emerges from Blair's account of that period is his genuine affection and regard for Bush, whose calm, focus, lack of pretense and security in his own skin the prime minister found particularly impressive.... 'A Journey' is first and foremost a political biography, and long stretches of it are likely to be terra incognita to most American readers. Still, Blair — like Clinton — is one of the great politicians of this generation and that makes his candid moments particularly interesting."
- Michael Moorcock on Hawking and Mlodinow's Grand Design: "While not dealing with recent developments in astrophysics or discussing chaos theory, Hawking and Mlodinow's fascinating book, with its wonderful illustrations, takes us through the various supernatural and scientific cosmological theories that mankind has developed since earliest times to explain our universe.... 'The Grand Design' sets out to answer these questions, demonstrating how we are dependent on models of reality that, with investigation, can sometimes change. And their arguments do indeed bring us closer to seeing our world, universe and multiverse in terms that a previous generation might easily have dismissed as supernatural."
- Liz Brown on Pedigree by Georges Simenon: "This is what makes Simenon such an extraordinary novelist: the way he can mix everything together; the way he collects sounds, smells and sights and inflects them with menace, arousal, comfort or some other abstract quality that becomes concrete on the page and blooms into a story. Among other things, 'Pedigree' is a remarkable act of mixing memory and imagination, re-creating the textures, places and people the author had left behind."