Book Reviews

Going Solo
Regardless of how desirable it is from either a social or an individual perspective, high rates of living alone would seem to be here to stay. As a rule, as countries get wealthier more of their citizens choose to live alone. The recent recession resulted in a temporary dip in the number of people living alone, but it would seem foolish to root for economic calamity just to force people to start bunking up again.
(The Christian Science Monitor, 2012)
The Last Great Senate
The one cultural current that Shapiro does touch on is the mushrooming of ideological conservatism, which hangs over the book like a dread shadow. He gestures towards the anti-tax, anti-government ideology that grew in earnest in the Republican Party following the passing of Proposition 13 in California in 1978 and he describes Jesse Helms’ election to the Senate in 1972 as an event that crystallized the importance of social issues (and particularly opposition to abortion) to the GOP.
(The Christian Science Monitor, 2012)
Later, after I’d left Jay’s room, I realized that while being a parent is tiring and sometimes boring, it also means that all I have to do is walk upstairs to experience a feeling that, like Aomame said, is akin to salvation. I also thought about all the hours I’d spent reading 1Q84, and suddenly it seemed clear why it had been a worthwhile way to spend my time: When life wears us down, great fiction gives us back our human shape.
(The Millions, 2011)
The Beekeeper’s Lament
The causes and consequences of CCD are hard to pin down. So is “The Beekeeper’s Lament,” in a way. It’s metaphorical and poetic, elegiac and somehow sad. The sadness pertains to the bees that drop dead by the billions every fall and to migratory beekeepers who come off as every bit as odd a lot as you might expect. But the question that lingers at the end of “The Beekeeper’s Lament” is whether that sadness also pertains to us.
(The Christian Science Monitor, 2011)
A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism
But the novel’s larger issue is that Gabriel. There is nothing heroic or noble or even particularly interesting about him; nothing that makes you hope he’ll stop lusting for the baubles of the well-heeled Manhattan life or provides any reason to believe that he will. Sometimes, maybe even often, a boy who wants a million dollars is just a boy who wants a million dollars.
(The Christian Science Monitor, 2011)
The Social Animal
If individuals are a product of their experiences and experiences are limited in large part by culture, as Brooks’ reading of cognitive science would have it, then the culture you’re born into goes a long way to determining your prospects in life. This is the essential rationale of liberal politics: Society is not a level playing field, so there is a collective responsibility to expand opportunity for the disadvantaged. The view opposes the up-by-your-bootstraps ethos of individualism and the American dream.
(The Christian Science Monitor, 2011)
Our Patchwork Nation
The social cohesion of the US, our rapid highways, and our pervasive commercial culture all serve to paper over the vastness of the country. They turn the mind away from the impossibility of even beginning to imagine the 300 million Americans who live together under one constitutional roof. In Our Patchwork Nation, journalist Dante Chinni and political scientist James Gimpel endeavor to make the diversity of American life more legible.
(The Christian Science Monitor, 2010)
The Collapse of Empires: A Survey of Essential Reading
If there is one firm conclusion we can draw from the experiences of prior empires, it is that whenever it is finally time to write a recap of the American Day, there will be no shortage of ink
spilled on the topic. The following nonfiction and fiction books will help illuminate what may—or may not—be our final days.
(Bookmarks Magazine, 2010)
Henry Clay: The Essential American by David and Jeanne Heidler
Clay’s legend begins with two superlatives, one welcome and the other not. His “melodious baritone” made him one of America’s most accomplished public speakers. He was also one of America’s all-time political losers, failing to capture the presidency in 1824, 1832 and 1844.
(American History Magazine, 2010)
The Promise by Jonathan Alter
Obama is content for now to present himself as a technocrat solving problems, but one suspects that he has a grander design in mind.
(The Christian Science Monitor, 2010)
The Big Short by Michael Lewis
“The Big Short” upends the view that Wall Street is a place populated by grown-ups who understand their business better than the government ever could.
(The Christian Science Monitor, 2010)
Empire of Liberty by Gordon Wood
As Wood’s clear-eyed and deeply informed scholarship makes clear, this country—and its people—were too diverse and dynamic to be limited by any single vision.
(American History Magazine, 2010)
The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley
Brinkley writes of Roosevelt’s lifelong love affair with nature, and in doing so crafts not only the definitive account of Roosevelt the conservationist, but maybe even of the man himself.
(American History Magazine, 2009)
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
For the generation of younger characters in Adichie’s stories, however, it is precisely this sense of possession—that their lives are theirs—that eludes them.(Paste Magazine, 2009)
Hard-Boiled Sentimentality by Leonard Cassuto
A primary pleasure of the book is Cassuto’s comprehensive and assured treatment of the crime novels he clearly loves.(Fordham Magazine, 2009)
Dangerous Games by Margaret MacMillan
Historians, according to MacMillan, ought to do for countries what psychologists do for individuals: help them see the past for what it is, and make that knowledge the basis for positive action going forward.(The Christian Science Monitor, 2009)
Why Socrates Died by Robin Waterfield
Socrates is traditionally depicted as a gadfly, but in Why Socrates Died Robin Waterfield colors him as more of a rube.(The Christian Science Monitor, 2009)
American Heroes by Edmund Morgan
All historians care chiefly about context, but what makes Morgan’s work unique is that he pursues it along two tracks. He is first an exhaustive primary source researcher, but Morgan also knows there are limits to what a historian can see if he thinks only about local evidence.(The Christian Science Monitor, 2009)
Power Rules by Leslie GelbCommon sense is, of course, a notoriously tricky thing to define, and people may experience it differently, although Gelb does not acknowledge as much. Common sense, to mean anything, has to operate on facts, and the facts are not always clear in real-time. Even when they are, reasonable people might disagree about how to interpret them, and it’s a wan kind of ex-post judgment that says the Bay of Pigs invasion might have succeeded if only Kennedy had provided air cover.(The Christian Science Monitor, 2009)
Wars, Guns, and Votes by Paul CollierAt the same time, there is a startling asymmetry between the magnitude of suffering and the small measure of progress that might accrue in a decade. If there’s a visceral lesson in this book, it is that it’s much easier to tear a nation apart than to build one up. (The Christian Science Monitor, 2009)
Beyond the Revolution by William GoetzmannBeyond the Revolution argues, the entire frenzy of American enterprise from the founding to the present can be understood as an effort to invent, peddle, connive or discern, a model for how to choose and what to value in country where anything is possible.
(The New York Observer, 2009)
American Lion by Jon MeachamAmerican Lion seeks to revise the view, held by Jackson’s opponents and sustained over time, that Jackson’s populism was largely a cloak for his own ambition.
(The New York Observer, 2008)