I am reading the NY Times Book Review this week so you don't have to. Meaning, this week's review of books is mostly either about books you should avoid or the reviews are terribly written.
However, let's start with the three exceptions that actually outweigh the bad: The first is historian David Oshinsky's gritty, emotionally astute review
of an autobiography of a man sentenced to life imprisonment for a violent crime, who finally was released after 40 years in a brutal southern prison--and who rehabilitated himself to an extent that is fairly unique.
The second is Bruce Barcott's outstanding review
of two new books on the genocide of the Native Americans in the 19th Century. It provides a compact, yet deeper understanding of the phenomenon of General Custer, and expands our scope of understanding of the 19th Century American West in the story of the "half-breed" Native American-European leader of the Comanches, Quanah Parker
. The story of Parker puts me in mind to a favorite Charles Eastman
, whose books written
in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries are must reading for those interested in the Native American experience during the time of the extermination of so many of the native tribes that inhabited North America.
The third is a ripping review
of a new book on a man who transformed the art gallery world. What I loved about this review is that, despite a subject I found a bit too much of "inside baseball" (the world of the industry of the purchase of "art"), the reviewer, Deborah Solomon, knew her subject well, and was able to impart succinctly the history and politics of the industry--while again ripping into the errors and misjudgments of the book under review.
And now, after the good, we have the bad and/or the ugly:
First up, Leslie Gelb's bloated, yet shallow review
of Peter Beinart's new book on foreign policy. I really can't tell what Beinart is or is not saying, and I'm not sure whether Gelb doesn't understand what Beinart is saying--or doesn't want anyone else to know. That Gelb is acutely interested in maintaining close ties to the war mongers
who inhabit the American foreign policy elite may have something to do with the style and substance of his review...
review of a new book by a Brookings Institution think-tanker of the history of the American phenomenon of "neoconservatism" tells us nothing we don't know. Despite my skepticism regarding the book, I hope the book turns out to be better than what may simply have been a shallow review.
is a review that admittedly helps us determine whether to read or not read a book. The reviewer, however, pretentiously praises an author who wrote an 800 page book filled with horrible, self-conscious prose (I even checked the book at Amazon and it was worse than what was described). Joshua Cohen has written a book with an interesting premise, the last Jew on the planet
, but fails to pull it off in a way that anyone should want to read it. For anyone interested in a sociological novel dealing about the "other" in society, I heartily recommend George Schuyler's "Black No More"
(1931). Schuyler's book reads wonderfully in our still new century, and remains a searing indictment of how people in our nation perceive those who are the "other."
review is even better than the third above in helping us learn why we should avoid journalist Michael Young's new and likely disappointing book. Young's eyewitness account of life in Lebanon in the last half of this just ended decade may well have failed to give us any additional insight into what is happening in Lebanon. Still, having found Young's blog reporting on the Israel-Lebanon war of 2006 to be compelling, I am, despite my initial thought, more willing to give Young an independent look.
review is another one where the reviewer likes a book, but inadvertently succeeds in keeping us away from the book under review. Specifically, reviewer David Kelly only proves that the New Yorker
is no place to read about spectator sports.
Sixth is a book review where, again, I can't tell if the book is shallow or the reviewer is. Seriously how can a book about love, inter-racial sex and revolution be dull? Yet, strange as it sounds, this
review of "Burmese Lessons"--and maybe the book, too--may fit the bill.
Perhaps I'm being too harsh about this week's NYT Book Review. But I don't think so. If anyone in the ether thinks otherwise, they are, as always, welcome to express their views...