- Two reviews on the Sunday cover: Sarah Bakewell on Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche by James L. Miller: "[H]is entire book conveys a sense that the genuinely philosophical examination of a life can still lead us somewhere radically different from other kinds of reflection.... It is an extraordinary thing to do: a project that remains 'quite personal,' as Husserl admitted, yet that reaches in to seize the whole world and redesign it from the very foundation. Perhaps this is what still distinguishes the philosophical life: that 'once in a lifetime' convulsion, in which one reinvents reality around oneself. It is a project doomed to fail, and compromises will always be made. But what, in life, could be more interesting?"
- And Susan Neiman on All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Herbert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly: "Here, two distinguished philosophers from the heart of the profession offer a meditation on the meaning of life, in a sharp, engaging style that will appeal to readers both within the academy and beyond it. They provide a compressed narrative of changes in Western understanding of human existence over the course of nearly three millenniums, and argue that reading great works of literature allows us to rediscover the reverence, gratitude and amazement that were available in Homeric times.... 'The gods have not withdrawn or abandoned us,' they conclude. 'We have kicked them out.'"
- Kevin Canty on Caribou Island by David Vann: "'Caribou Island' reads as briskly and suggestively as a story sequence..., but lingers in the mind with the gravity and heft of a longer narrative. Its interplay of incident and character gives it the feel of a 19th-century novel on the grand scale, only without any particular grandeur: this is a novel made of plywood and plastic sheeting and gravel banks, a world where people make out in the snow on bleachers at the go-kart track."
- Olen Steinhauer on Crime: Stories by Ferdinand von Schirach: "The result is a slim, utterly absorbing collection of 11 stories plucked from his legal career and told in a cool, patient voice that immediately draws the reader in. Von Schirach guides us through the unpredictable sequences of events that can maneuver regular, flawed people into unbearable positions, leading them to abhorrent acts. He presents only the facts he has access to, leaving sentiment to our imagination."
- Maslin on Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall by Frank Brady: "'Endgame' is a rapt, intimate book, greatly helped by its author’s long acquaintance with Fischer ... and his deep grounding in the world of chess.... What changed boyish, chess-loving Bobby into the erratic, loathsome old crackpot and man without a country that he would eventually become? Mr. Brady is not in the business of tossing around facile judgments or easy answers. Instead, he gets as close as he can to a Bobby’s-eye point of view for 'Endgame' and tries to convey what Fischer’s character-warping experiences as a public figure may have been like, and how they shaped him."
- Kakutani on O: A Presidential Novel: "Well, now we know why the author of this much gossiped about, heavily marketed new book wanted to remain anonymous: 'O: A Presidential Novel' is a thoroughly lackadaisical performance — trite, implausible and decidedly unfunny.... The author of 'O' is described on the book flap as someone who 'has been in the room with Barack Obama,' but given this novel’s many inane implausibilities, the reader can’t help but think that the writer was either a lousy observer or that the room was really enormous — a hotel ballroom, perhaps, or maybe a convention center."
- Maslin on Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua: "'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,' a diabolically well-packaged, highly readable screed ostensibly about the art of obsessive parenting. In truth, Ms. Chua’s memoir is about one little narcissist’s book-length search for happiness.... Wherever she is in this slickly well-shaped story, Ms. Chua never fails to make herself its center of attention."
- Patrick Anderson on Heartstone by C.J. Sansom: "The novel has it all: an ingenious plot, ceaseless suspense, villains galore, tipsy priests, a bull-baiting, a stag hunt, several murders, the horrors of war, a brooding sense of evil and a glittering portrait of a fascinating age. I rank it with Iain Pears's 'An Instance of the Fingerpost' (1998) among the very best of recent historical thrillers. Finishing it, I longed for the leisure to go back and read the previous Shardlake adventures, but my thoughts also turned to those still to come."
- Lily Burana on You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon: "'You Know When the Men Are Gone' is a terrific and terrifically illuminating book.... The highest praise I can give this book - as a critic and a soldier's wife - is that it's so achingly authentic that I had to put it down and walk away at least a dozen times. At one point, I stuffed it under the love seat cushions. If Fallon ever expands her talents into a novel, I may have to hide in the closet for a month."
- Lisa See on Pictures of You by Catherine Leavitt: "The pages here are full of professionals who don't do their jobs, classmates who behave like monsters, and even Charlie, who's so afraid to do anything about his son that he may ruin Sam's life. But of course we know people try to do the right thing all the time, but often fail. This is a novel that invites us to look at our own imperfections, not the dramatic crimes, but the niggling little sins of omission that so often render our lives tragically undernourished and small."
Los Angeles Times:
- Tim Rutten on O: "(It's hard to escape the impression that this is less a political novel than a New York publisher's concept of a third-generation Hollywood sequel, but that's another story. Memo to Simon & Schuster: Don't look so quickly past the book to the film deal.) Perhaps this dreary book's largest shortcoming is its implacably earnest tone. Politics can be raffish, ribald, antic, chaotic and mind-boggling, but an authentic account never reads quite like something pulled out of a newspaper's pile of unsolicited op-ed page submissions from assistant poli-sci professors at the local state college, as this novel too frequently does."
- Susan Salter Reynolds on Gryphon: New and Selected Stories by Charles Baxter: "Baxter knows how to play with a reader's emotions; he knows when to flatten the curve, when to turn up the volume. He knows exactly what you will feel if the thing you fear is about to happen doesn't happen. Because he is so good, his writing so seemingly effortless, his landscapes and portraits so precisely detailed, the effect is harder to shake. And this is the effect: We stumble. A certain disintegration is inevitable; with so much that is known, mapped-out, understood about the human condition, foolish joy is a supreme triumph."