An Index To Selected Book Reviews
EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON: QUANAH PARKER AND THE FALL OF THE COMANCHES, THE MOST POWERFUL TRIBE IN AMERICAN HISTORY (9/21/11) S.C. Gwynne tells the amazing story of the improbable rise and eventual fall of the Comanche nation, focusing on the epic saga of the pioneer woman Cynthia Ann Parker and her mixed-blood son Quanah, who became the last and greatest Comanche chief. LINK.
TIBET: A HISTORY (8/23/11) Where is Tibet? That depends upon which Tibet you are talking about. Is it the Tibet that the Chinese occupiers refer to as the Tibet Autonomous Region? Is it the larger ethnographic Tibet that share the same language? Or is it the larger still Tibet of yore that overlaps with four Chinese provinces and four other Himalayan kingdoms? Sam Van Schaik does an admirable job of sorting out those questions. LINK.
MOBY DUCK: THE TRUE STORY OF 28,000 BATH TOYS LOST AT SEA (5/31/11) Donovan Hahn's account of the loss of 28,800 rubber bath toys from a storm-tossed container ship in the North Pacific in 1992 is an unalloyed joy, both informative and long on introspection. LINK.
MALCOLM X: A LIFE OF REINVENTION (4/25/11) Manning Marable has written a long overdue corrective to Alex Haley's Autobiography, which he says is rife with factual errors and inaccuracies, as well as accounts of Malcolm X's life based less on the historic record than what Malcolm wanted people to believe about him. And many white people were more than willing to believe because the mainstream view fit their definition of a bad black man who redeemed himself. LINK.
JOHNNY ONE-EYE: A TALE OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION (2/22/11) There has been a tsunami of books about George Washington in recent years, but none has captured the man with such wit and charm than Jerome Charyn, whose account of Manhattan Island during the Revolutionary War, save for the broad historical overlay and the deeds of the familiar figures, is apocryphal from start to finish. It is a hoot. Or as the Brits might say, a rum tale. LINK.
HOW THE BEATLES DESTROYED ROCK 'N' ROLL: AN ALTERNATIVE HISTORY OF AMERICAN POPULAR MUSIC (1/19/11) While the provocative thesis of this book is obvious from its title, fans of the Fab Four will be relieved to known that author Elijah Wald does not make that claim in apocalyptic terms, but rather as a statement of fact in his fascinating chronicle of how one genre superseded another -- ever building on what came before and laying the groundwork for what came next -- in the incredibly rich tapestry of 20th century American music. LINK.
HITCH 22: A MEMOIR (10/25/10) As literary genres go, biographies of journalists tend to be tedious and autobiographies by journalists even more so. But Christopher Hitchens, as he so often has done over a four-decade career of skewering the high and mighty, tries to break the mold and largely succeeds in his trenchant and witty way. LINK.
AGAINST THE DAY (1/14/10) This brilliantly funny book doorstop of a Thomas Pynchon book reveals its themes only gradually after innumerable side trips and cul de sacs that are patches in a crazy quilt of a sweeping narrative with a huge cast of characters and a stage that stretches from the Colorado coal fields to the 1892 Chicago World's Fair to Constantinople and beyond in the run-up to World War I. LINK.
THIS IS YOUR COUNTRY ON DRUGS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF GETTING HIGH IN AMERICA (10/20/09) Author Ryan Grim says that little tells us more about the state of America than what Americans are doing to get high. This is because drugs are a bellwether of a society where people work harder and party harder than in any other first world country. LINK.
'THE GAMBLE: GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS AND THE AMERICAN MILITARY ADVENTURE IN IRAQ, 2006-2008 (6/8/09) Thomas Ricks tells the gripping story of how the U.S. was able to step back from the precipice in Iraq because of the Surge, a radically different strategy that succeeded militarily because of a solitary general who was able to convince the White House and Pentagon that business as usual would inevitably lead to defeat. LINK.
'A PEACE TO END ALL PEACE' (6/1/09) When Barack Obama set out on a trip to the Muslim Middle East he visited a region whose borders were carved up by the World War I victors with no thought given to ethnic, religious or historic concerns -- a nonsensical crazy quilt of national borders that resemble those today and, as author David Fromkin argues, continues to have global consequences. LINK.
'UP FROM HISTORY: THE LIFE OF BOOKER T. WASHINGTON': (5/11/09) A welcome corrective for a man whose legacy the changing attitudes about civil rights have distorted. Washington's efforts to sustain black morale at the nadir of their post-Emancipation struggle has to be counted among the most heroic efforts in American history. LINK.
'HITLER'S EMPIRE': HE WAS GOOD AT WAR BUT LOUSY AT GOVERNING (4/13/09) Those detail-obsessed Nazis gave little thought to governance, let alone a long-term vision for their immense empire, argues Mark Mazower. LINK.
THE MAN WHO UNLOCKED THE MYSTERIES OF CHINA'S MIDDLE KINGDOM (10/12/08) Chinese claims that they were responsible for hundreds of mankind's most familiar inventions -- including explosives, printing, the compass, hydraulics, ceramics, suspension bridges and even toilet paper -- were long viewed with skepticism by Westerners who were smugly certain that these ancient people were incapable of such advanced innovations. notes author Simon Winchester. That was until Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham came along. LINK.
'THE OPEN ROAD: THE GLOBAL JOURNEY OF THE FOURTEENTH DALAI LAMA' (9/17/08) Tibet is a land rich not just in history, but also in irony. "The Roof of the World" holds a special place in the popular imagination because of the movie Shangri-La and other gauzy Hollywood treatments, as well as one individual, the Dalai Lama. But those celluloid depictions are fawningly unrealistic, writes Pico Iyler, while the Dalai Lama is typically reduced to a caricature. LINK.
'TWILIGHT AT MONTICELLO' & JEFFERSON'S PARADOXICAL VIEWS ON SLAVERY' (6/27/08) Befitting the life of the great man himself, his Monticello seems much larger on the inside. It also is full of hidden passageways, secret chambers and other surprises. Indeed, if you like your dead presidents simple, then Jefferson is not your man, says author Alan Pell Crawford. LINK.
MASON & DIXON,' AN 18th CENTURY MUSING ON ALL THINGS (5/18/08) A pun-filled Thomas Pynchon send up on the clockwork-like machinations of and metaphysical musings on the universe disguised as an 18th century novel. Or at least I think it is. LINK.
A BAKER'S DOZEN: BEST BOOKS ON VIETNAM (5/3/08) Must reads for any serious student of the Vietnam War, ranging from a Bernard Fall classic published on the eve of the disastrous American build-up to the definitive Pentagon history of the war to a book on the secret bombing campaign in Cambodia to three fictional accounts. LINK.
MUSICOPHILIA' (3/30/08) Oliver Sacks writes that it is a testament to the complexity of the brain that despite decades of research we still have relatively little understanding of why many of us enjoy music so deeply. LINK.
'LEGACY OF ASHES' (1/11/08) Although it may not be the best metaphor, if the Central Intelligence Agency had been a baseball team over the last 60 years, its record would be something like 5 wins and 95 loses in big games. Yes, the CIA has been that bad, argues author Tim Weiner. LINK.