Saturday, March 03, 2012

Review of Book Reviews: Washington Post Edition

Harold Holzer, a noted Lincoln historian, has written an excellent review of Jonathan Sarna's new book on General Grant and his "Jewish problem." Holzer beautifully explains the strengths and weaknesses of Sarna's latest insightful book relating to Jewish-American history. Sarna is the leading historian of the Jewish-American experience as many may already know.

Jonathan Yardley may be the best fiction reviewer in the business, and his description and review of Richard Mason's newest novel, "History of a Pleasure Seeker," is a marvelous example. I share the sensibility of those at the end of Yardley's review that Mason's subject for his novel is too pedestrian, but Yardley convinces me Mason's prose is sparkling--and perhaps that is enough. There are Thomas Hardy novels that fit that description, such as "A Pair of Blue Eyes" and "The Trumpet Major," both of which I deeply enjoyed. Perhaps I'd enjoy Mason's novel, and that again is more than enough.

The Post also delivers three drive-by reviews worth reading: One about an alt-history where the Spanish Armada defeats the British--now that is chilling. The second concerns a Jewish psychic who ends up within Hitler's circle in the earliest days of the Nazis. The reviewer decided not to spoil the ending, but I will: The psychic is killed at the time of the infamous Reichstag Fire, probably by the Nazi organized SA. See Wikipedia for the sparse but informative account. The third review concerns the annotated version of Neil Gaiman's insanely ambitious "The Sandman," and is by someone who truly understands the work, which I found too ambitious even for my taste--but which I had respected when it had first arrived nearly twenty-three years ago.

Finally, Rachel Newcomb, a professor of anthropology at Rollins College (a school which has previously eluded my attention, I must admit!), has written the best review I've read of a relatively recent book about two Muslim women who have challenged various aspects of modern Islam. The review is insightful, and serves as an excellent introduction to the two women discussed in the book.

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