Books in Brief

Books reviewed in The Atlantic Monthly in 2005

Fiction

James Agee: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, A Death in the Family, Shorter Fiction, Edited by Michael Sragow (Library of America)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("He Found It at the Movies," September 2005)

"Agee ... left behind some stunning if flawed monuments, among them A Death in the Family ... and the more frequently admired than read Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a novelistic documentary portrait of three families of Alabama tenant farmers in the 1930s."

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The Annotated Lolita, edited by Alfred Appel Jr. (Vintage)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("Hurricane Lolita," December 2005)

"One of the many, many pleasures of Alfred Appel's masterly introduction and annotation [to Nabokov's Lolita] is the discovery that Nabokov did not realize that Maurice Girodias and the Olympia Press were specialists in—well, shall we just say "erotica"?—when he let them have the manuscript."

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Dancing Girls and Other Stories, by Margaret Atwood (Anchor)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("Retail Therapy," May 2005)

"Brilliantly evocative of the psychology of discount shoppers ... and offering perhaps the first literary reference to the off-price designer-goods emporium, Atwood's story is also, incidentally, quietly perceptive about the Gothic nature of first loves."

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Catharine and Other Writings, by Jane Austen (Oxford)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending, Part 2," October 2005)

"Austen seems to have been born with a fatuousness detector implanted in her mobcapped skull. Her collected juvenilia—plays and sketches like the droll History of England she wrote at sixteen—are subversive and hilarious."

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The Wonder Spot, by Melissa Bank (Viking)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Judd ("New Fiction," July/August 2005)

"Melissa Bank's terrific new novel lacks the topical conflicts and poetic imagery that critics appreciate, and its strong suit—a companionable, offhand sense of humor leading to subtle revelations of character—is deceptively difficult to achieve."

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Follies and New Stories, by Ann Beattie (Scribner)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," April 2005)

"Ann Beattie's short sentences and simple syntax hold the reader at a distance ... By artfully making her art recede, Beattie lets the few details that anchor the passage convey her story. "

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Willful Creatures: Stories, by Aimee Bender (Doubleday)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," October 2005)

"Bender ... creates her own world somewhere between the familiar and the absurd."

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The Hotel, by Elizabeth Bowen (Penguin)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending, Part 2," October 2005)

"Bowen set her earliest novel in a vaguely Forsterish milieu: an English pensione on the Italian Riviera, filled with the requisite lady tourists, clergymen, and handsome young fellows in tennis whites.... No knock on Forster, but Bowen is heaps better than he is."

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Fascination, by William Boyd (Knopf)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," July/August 2005)

"Boyd effortlessly executes all the sophisticated tricks of conventional style even as he pushes beyond convention, taking liberties with language and proportion."

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March, by Geraldine Brooks (Viking)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("New Fiction: Finds and Flops," April 2005)

"Brooks's narrative is remarkably tight. Whereas much literary fiction wallows in digression, here every scrap of information propels the story forward."

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A Pair of Silk Stockings and Other Stories, by Kate Chopin (Dover)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("Retail Therapy," May 2005)

"Chopin's gentle little tale about the addictive nature of luxury goods seems particularly resonant today: who hasn't entered Barneys for a pair of tights, only to exit head-to-toe in Prada?"

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The Closed Circle, by Jonathan Coe (Knopf)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Judd ("After School," June 2005)

"Messy and brimming ... The Closed Circle would be easy to skewer for its mind-boggling coincidences and armchair analysis (rarely does Coe show when he can tell, tell, tell), but it redeems itself with boundless energy and a cheerful capaciousness."

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The Pure and the Impure, by Colette (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending, Part 2," October 2005)

"An anatomy of the sophisticated sexual life as lived in great cities by those who are thoughtful and unafraid."

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Specimen Days, by Michael Cunningham (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Reviewed by Joseph O'Neill ("New Fiction," June 2005)

"Michael Cunningham is one of the most humane and moving writers we have; but the toiling quality of Specimen Days suggests that ... he may lack the naturally impassioned formalism required to make a multi-genre novel come truly to life."

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In the Fold, by Rachel Cusk (Little, Brown)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," November 2005)

"Though Cusk uses figurative language liberally, she does so with a light touch and an intellectual precision that makes the figures work exactly as they ought."

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Diary of a Provincial Lady, by E. M. Delafield (Academy Chicago Publishers)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("Retail Therapy," May 2005)

"Delafield's novelistic dispatches from Devon are written with a Braudelian attention to the material culture of daily life—in this instance the everyday trappings of a modern-minded, village-bound land agent's wife."

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The Truth of the Matter, by Robb Forman Dew (Little, Brown)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," December 2005)

"Dew ... achiev[es] a style as solid and direct as the well-intentioned World War II-era midwesterners about whom she writes."

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The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa (Pantheon)
Reviewed by Allan Gurganus ("One Great Book Per Life," March 2005)

"This masterpiece remains a pitiless love poem to the ever dying, never dead aristocracy. Tart and suave with its author's sexy big-cat ego, it is the greatest work by and about someone titled."

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The Book of Ebenezer Le Page , by G. B. Edwards (Knopf)
Reviewed by Allan Gurganus ("One Great Book Per Life," March 2005)

"Edwards planned devoting his last years to a trilogy of island novels. He finished only one, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page (1981), but it reads like Beethoven's Ninth."

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How We Are Hungry, by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's)
Reviewed by Jon Zobenica ("A Close Read," April 2005)

"This story collection is a ... temperate, generally melancholic affair. But in it a certain voice keeps popping up oddly: that of the irrepressibly manic memoirist."

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer (Houghton Mifflin)
Reviewed by B. R. Myers ("A Bag of Tired Tricks," May 2005)

"Never mind the poor taste; never mind the story about losing a father and finding a grandfather, which would elicit sneers from critics if the cover had The Key on it and Nicholas Sparks's name underneath. The remarkable thing is that a substantial part of the book is designed to be only glanced at."

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Accidents, by Yael Hedaya (Metropolitan Books)
Reviewed by Joseph O'Neill ("New Fiction," December 2005)

"When you read a book like Yael Hedaya's Accidents—a fine-grained, tragicomic, and always gripping portrait of adult love in the making—you wonder why so few such books are produced, and why they are not more fanfared."

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The Garden of Eden, By Ernest Hemingway (Scribner)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending," September 2005)

"This unfinished novel, published posthumously, features a painfully mixed-up hero, a knockout scene of fetishistic haircutting, and sentences so beautiful one could cry."

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A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby (Riverhead)
Reviewed by Jon Zobenica ("You Might as Well Live," July/August 2005)

"Nick Hornby's zippy novels High Fidelity and About a Boy, plumbed the depths of humankind's would-be shallows.... In his latest Hornby has almost perfectly reversed [his] formula, and to the extent that he succeeds, he fails."

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Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf)
Reviewed by Joseph O'Neill ("New Fiction," May 2005)

"Suffice it to say that Ishiguro serves up the saddest, most persuasive science fiction you'll read."

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Ulysses, by James Joyce (Vintage)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("Retail Therapy," May 2005)

"Joyce offers a sympathetic glimpse into the empowering nature of fashion wisely bought."

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Absolute Friends, by John le Carré (Little, Brown)
Reviewed by B. R. Myers ("Tradecraft," April 2005)

"This is le Carré's first truly bad novel, one that seems almost calculated to give the lie to each building-blurb of his reputation."

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The Hot Kid, by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow)
Reviewed by B. R. Myers ("The Prisoner of Cool," November 2005)

"Anyone who reads the first chapter—a wonderful short story in its own right—will probably care enough about the outcome to enjoy reading on to the last fifth of the book, which is almost as good."

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A Hero of Our Time, by Mikhail Lermontov, translated by Hugh Aplin (Hesperus/Trafalgar)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("A Doomed Young Man," June 2005)

"These five nicely chiseled stories, giving Rashomon-like perspectives on the short life of a doomed young man, are in a most intriguing way 'of their time.'"

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Saturday, by Ian McEwan (Doubleday/Nan Talese)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("Civilization and Its Malcontents," April 2005)

"With this novel the soft and the hard McEwan come into an exquisite balance, just as the thin and objective blade pares away at the spongy, vulnerable tissue of the cerebellum."

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Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell (Warner Books)
Reviewed by Allan Gurganus ("One Great Book Per Life," March 2005)

"Patterned on Thackeray's Vanity Fair, the novel (and Peggy's Victorian hypochondria) sidelined her for years. When the book became 1936's best seller, winning the Pulitzer, she was doomed to spend the rest of her foreshortened life answering letters from every fan who idly pestered or praised her."

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Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami (Knopf)
Reviewed by Jon Zobenica ("New Fiction," May 2005)

"Perhaps it needn't be said that this meta-fictional fun house isn't perfect, but underpinning it all is a surprisingly patient, deeply affecting meditation on perfection itself, specifically romantic perfection."

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The Good Wife, by Stuart O'Nan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," May 2005)

"Stewart O'Nan gets his characters to tell their own stories ... The way he builds his sentences captures the leapfrogging, occasionally ungrammatical style of real people's real thoughts."

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A Perfect Stranger and Other Stories, by Roxana Robinson (Random House)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," September 2005)

"Robinson ... dramatizes a remarkable range of emotion in a very short space."

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Antwerp, by Nicholas Royle (Serpent's Tail)
Reviewed by Joseph O'Neill ("New Fiction," September 2005)

"[A] darkly engaging thriller."

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I'll Take It, by Paul Rudnick (Ballantine Books)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("Retail Therapy," May 2005)

"Rudnick's novel is affectionate and shticky, and wickedly perceptive about consumer/status culture in eighties Manhattan, when everything was literally up for grabs."

Shalimar the Clown, by Salman Rushdie (Random House)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("Hobbes in the Himalayas," September 2005)

"This is a highly serious novel, on an extremely serious subject, by a deeply serious man."

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Household Words, by Joan Silber (Norton)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Judd ("New Fiction," November 2005)

"A virtuoso performance: meticulously crafted, unflinching, and ultimately dazzling."

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Ideas of Heaven, by Joan Silber (Norton)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," June 2005)

"Silber's writing is smooth, yes, but it's also liberally spiced."

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On Beauty, by Zadie Smith (Penguin)
Reviewed by Joseph O'Neill ("New Fiction," October 2005)

"Although the full, tragic dimensions of the human adventure may be missing—an odd, sitcommy inconsequentiality colors the disasters that befall her characters—there's no doubting the artistic conviction that underlies this unabashedly conventional novel."

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Holy Skirts, by René Steinke (William Morrow)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("The Lady Is a Tramp," July/August 2005)

"René Steinke's fictional re-imagining of Man Ray and Duchamp's mad muse is wonderfully insightful about the self-absorption required to be a fashion avatar."

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Villages, by John Updike (Knopf)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," January/February 2005)

"An ideal evocation of the mundane.... Quintessentially Updikean."

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Memoirs of Hadrian, By Marguerite Yourcenar (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending," September 2005)

"Now, here's an oddity: a butch lady novelist who's also one of the great gay-male writers of the twentieth century. She didn't like women, and it shows—especially in this, her masterpiece about the Roman emperor Hadrian and his beloved catamite Antinous."

Non-Fiction

James Agee: Film Writing & Selected Journalism, Edited by Michael Sragow (Library of America)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("He Found It at the Movies," September 2005)

"Appearing weekly, Agee's reviews were no doubt a marvel, but envelop them in LOA's solemn black dust jacket and print them on its for-the-ages acid-free stock and his blind spots and shortcomings become glaring."

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At Ease: Navy Men of WWII, edited by Evan Bachner (Harry N. Abrams)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Strange Butterflies," June 2005)

"These images of 'ordinary' shipboard life were taken by Edward Steichen, Horace Bristol, Charles Fenno Jacobs, and other members of the wartime Naval Aviation Photographic Unit.... The unguarded homoeroticism of the men in the photos is at once astonishing and oddly moving."

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Forgotten Armies, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper (Harvard)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("War Without End," November 2005)

"A panoramic chronicle of the war in South Asia ranging from swank prewar Singapore to famine-ravaged Bengal, where three million people died in 1943-1944.... A brilliant marriage of social and military history and a work of extraordinary literary merit."

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Our Bodies, Ourselves, edited by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective (Touchstone)
Reviewed by Cristina Nehring ("Latex Conquers All," October 2005)

"The world we encounter in Our Bodies is so strongly politicized as to be nearly fabricated, and therefore worthless. Except, of course, when it is worse than worthless, as is the case when the authors plunge into disquisitions about sex."

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Harvard Rules : The Struggle for the Soul of the World's Most Powerful University, by Richard Bradley (HarperCollins)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Clothes-Minded," March 2005)

"This detailed if not necessarily reliable picture of the intrigue and controversies that surround Larry Summers's presidency of Harvard is gossipy and kind of trashy but wholly compelling—a Sex and the City for the Northeast-corridor elite (now, there's an unappealing concept)."

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The London Look: Fashion from Street to Catwalk, by Christopher Breward, Edwina Ehrman, Caroline Evans (Yale University Press)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Clothes-Minded," March 2005)

"As much a cultural as an aesthetic history, this book is fascinating and great fun."

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Cheap Psychological Tricks for Parents, by Perry W. Buffington (Peachtree Publishers)
Reviewed by Sandra Tsing-Loh ("Marshal Plan," March 2005)

"After bemoaning soft-on-child-misbehavior philosophies ... Buffington claims that the age of parents as friends is over."

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Journals of William Emmanuel Bugg, by William Emmanuel Bugg (B. Ffyliaid)
Reviewed by Allan Gurganus ("One Great Book Per Life," March 2005)

"To justify its high-cost living, every life is worth examining. And Farmer Wm. Bugg's existence seemed (to him at least) worth a spunky daily pencil jotting. Journals of William Emmanuel Bugg, 1848-1935 (1986) reveals one rustic fellow as funny as strict."

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Mao, by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (Knopf)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Passion in Fashion," December 2005)

"This volume, the most complete and assiduously researched biography of its subject yet published, presents a detailed portrait of Mao as an opportunistic gangster and a sadist."

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The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, by Richard Cook and Brian Morton (Penguin)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending," September 2005)

"Cook and Morton are ... polymathic, fanatical, obsessed with outtakes and reissues and obscure Japanese imports. (They also write exquisitely.)"

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Sample: Cuttings from Contemporary Fashion, Edited by Bronwyn Cosgrave (Phaidon)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Passion in Fashion," December 2005)

"[A] sleekly gorgeous book ... Bronwyn Cosgrave, formerly of the British Vogue, assembled ten doyens of the fashion scene and asked each to pick the ten most promising budding designers from around the globe."

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Edmund Wilson, by Lewis M. Dabney (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Elements of Style," July/August 2005)

"With the optimism and myopia of a scholar consumed by his subject, Dabney sees Wilson as a vital influence in today's American intellectual and cultural life."

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Carry Me Back, by Steven Deyle (Oxford)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Golden State," June 2005)

"What's most disturbing about this fine book—by far the best work to date on [the slave trade]—is its depiction of the weakness of men who thought themselves upright, and of how easily and casually equivocation and self-delusion permitted enormities."

Raising Boys Without Men, by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D., with Linden Gross (Rodale)
Reviewed by Caitlin Flanagan ("Boys Will Be Boys," November 2005)

"One could logically conclude from this report that the very worst situation for a boy would be to have two fathers raise him—but I'm sure Drexler doesn't mean that. It's straight men she's afraid of, and it's been open season on them for such a long time that her preposterous book is unlikely to raise a ripple beyond its intended audience."

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The Stripping of the Altars, by Eamon Duffy (Yale)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Another World," October 2005)

"At once meticulous and lush, The Stripping of the Altars patiently and systematically recovers the lost world of medieval English Catholicism."

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Is Cuba Socialist?, by René Dumont (Deutsch)
Reviewed by Steve Wasserman ("Cuba Libre," December 2005)

"A French agronomist with expertise in the developing and newly independent nations of Africa, [Dumont] accepted an invitation from Castro to witness and critique the revolution then in the making. Dumont was appalled by what he saw: Cuba's far from withering state, the militarization of its economy, the idolatry surrounding its overindulged "maximum leader."

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Tired of Weeping: Mother Love, Child Death, and Poverty in Guinea-Bissau, by Jonina Einarsdottir (Wisconsin)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("He Found It at the Movies," September 2005)

"This compelling contribution to the anthropology of emotion carries a deeply unsettling implication.... it seems clear that many earlier societies were, and many of today's impoverished societies are, saturated with—even defined by—an inconsolable anguish."

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Roman Candle: The Life of Bobby Darin, by David Evanier (Rodale Books)
Reviewed by David Hajdu (" Chameleon With a Toupee," January/February 2005)

"Evanier's portrait, true to its title, is one of a bright talent that soared quickly and erupted in a flash of glory."

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Persona Non Grata: A Memoir of Disenchantment With the Cuban Revolution, by Jorge Edwards, preface by Octavio Paz (Nation Books)
Reviewed by Steve Wasserman ("Cuba Libre," December 2005)

"Edwards, a renowned novelist, was Chilean President Salvador Allende's man in Havana in the winter of 1970-1971.... His indispensable memoir first appeared in English in 1977."

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The Third Reich in Power, by Richard J. Evans (Penguin)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("War Without End," November 2005)

"This, the second part of a three-volume history of Nazi Germany, covers the period from the Nazi seizure of power, in 1933, to the start of the Second World War, in 1939. A wonder of synthesis and acute judgment, this work when completed will be the definitive study for at least a generation. "

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Faithfull: An Autobiography, by Marianne Faithfull and David Dalton (Little, Brown & Co.)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("The Lady Is a Tramp," July/August 2005)

"Were there ever more-glamorous groupies than Faithfull and her stunning partner in just about everything, Anita Pallenberg? They bed-swapped with the Stones, when getting inside Mick's trousers still meant something, and then Marianne dropped the Stones for drugs. This wonderfully matter-of-fact account of sixties decadence British-style is evidence that Faithfull cannot ultimately be charged with moral vacuity."

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The Singapore Grip, by J. G. Farrell (NYRB Books)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Golden State," June 2005)

"Farrell matchlessly conveys the dull terror of incipient disaster that seized [a] rich, modern, but isolated and artificial metropolis."

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A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, by Patrick Leigh Fermor (New York Review Books Classics)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("War Without End," November 2005)

"Two volumes of extraordinary lyrical beauty and discursive, staggering erudition.... An evocation of a lost Mitteleuropa of wild horses and dark forests, of ancient synagogues and vivacious Jewish coffeehouses, of Hussars and Uhlans, and of high-spirited and deeply eccentric patricians with vast libraries."

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My Life So Far, by Jane Fonda (Random House)
Reviewed by Tom Carson ("Calamity Jane," July/August 2005)

"No matter what your preconceptions are, Fonda's My Life So Far is never boring.... That Fonda can still be an unconscious narcissist after all these years is triumphant proof that she's as American as smart bombs and Bozo."

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The Mind of the Master Class, by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene D. Genovese (Cambridge)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Another World," October 2005)

"A work brilliant but at times exasperating, always tough-minded, often mischievous, and occasionally disappointing, the 800-plus-page The Mind of the Master Class is impossibly rich."

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An Autobiography (To the Is-Land, An Angel at My Table, The Envoy From Mirror City), by Janet Frame (George Braziller)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending, Part 2," October 2005)

"Such poignancy, farce, tragedy, and joy—one can only pay homage."

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What's the Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, by Thomas Frank (Metropolitan Books)
Reviewed by Marc Cooper ("Thinking of Jackasses," April 2005)

"Thomas Frank wittily and skillfully deconstruct[s] what might be dubbed the Great Con Job: the conservative canard that somehow Democrats have cornered the market on elitism, while the GOP's bleeding heart is more with the little guy than with Enron's Kenneth Lay."

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Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition, by Bill Friedman (Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming)
Reviewed by Marc Cooper ("Sit and Spin," December 2005)

"In his Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition, an exhaustive 600-page, eight-pound study of every major casino in Nevada, the former casino executive Bill Friedman recognizes the cocooning allure of machine gambling, implicitly arguing that the snugger and more isolating a casino space is, the more inviting it is to machine players."

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The Golden West, by Daniel Fuchs (Black Sparrow)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Golden State," June 2005)

"Fuchs's fictional and nonfictional depictions of Los Angeles and the movie business have been assembled with great care and unusual intelligence in this collection. His appraisals are at once lyrical and hard: his ingenuous relish of the jasmine, orange blossoms, and honeysuckle in the soft air of a winter's night in Beverly Hills never diminished, even as he dissected the narcissistic desperation at the heart of the Hollywood enterprise."

The Sky's the Limit, by Steven Gaines (Little, Brown)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Eminent Domains," May 2005)

"If, as Gaines asserts, 'real estate has become a voyeuristic preoccupation in America,' then this is one smutty book. It probes the world of Manhattan's most exclusive apartment houses ... and dishes plenty of tittle-tattle."

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The Devil's Playground, by Nan Goldin (Phaidon)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Strange Butterflies," June 2005)

"Go on, admit it: she's now the greatest living American photographer... The autobiographical photographs making up this enormous volume ... are impossible to stop looking at."

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Animals in Translation, By Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson (Scribner)
Reviewed by B. R. Myers ("If Pigs Could Swim," September 2005)

"Grandin's prose alone makes her new book, Animals in Translation, well worth a read. Fresh and irreverent, yet almost completely emotionless, the style suggests a cross between Holden Caulfield and Star Trek's Mr. Spock—which is so much better than it sounds that I wish Grandin would try her hand at fiction."

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The Survivor, by John F. Harris (Random House)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Golden State," June 2005)

"Better accounts of the Clinton presidency will be written, but for now this is the best."

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Open Wide, by Dade Hayes and Jonathan Bing (Miramax Books)
Reviewed by Tom Carson ("The Big Shill," May 2005)

"What [Hayes and Bing] have produced is a classic look at Hollywood in the age of box-office megabucks—a book to set alongside Lillian Ross's Picture, John Gregory Dunne's The Studio, and Steven Bach's Final Cut, the best of a genre that ought to be more crowded."

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Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture, by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter (HarperBusiness)
Reviewed by Marc Cooper ("Thinking of Jackasses," April 2005)

"Liberal Canadian professors Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter argue that an essentially self-gratifying 'idea of the counterculture' has turned into 'the conceptual template for all contemporary leftist politics.'"

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Unraveled, by Maria Housden (Harmony Books)
Reviewed by Sandra Tsing Loh ("The Great Escape," September 2005)

"Was Unraveled as much of a New Age white upper-middle-class fantasy howler as I thought it was? Test reads by other mothers, trusted friends, revealed that if anything, the book seemed more of a Rorschach inkblot: women reacted, often weepily, to the individual strands that most resonated with their own experience."

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Beat the Slots, by Marten Jensen (Cardoza Publishing)
Reviewed by Marc Cooper ("Sit and Spin," December 2005)

"Jensen, the so-called Doctor of Gambling, points out in his Beat the Slots that even an apparently low-stakes slot session can chew right through a hefty bankroll."

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The Chosen, by Jerome Karabel (Houghton Mifflin)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("He Found It at the Movies," September 2005)

"Karabel ... is illuminating and quietly excoriating on the subject of class diversity at the elite schools—a value they don't prize nearly as highly as they do racial and ethnic diversity."

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Guerrillas in Power: The Course of the Cuban Revolution, by K. S. Karol (Nation Books)
Reviewed by Steve Wasserman ("Cuba Libre," December 2005)

"No writer before [Karol] had enjoyed such complete access to confidential government files and to Castro and his comrades. Karol wrote an honest book, sharply criticizing Castro for becoming a caudillo."

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The Face of Battle, By John Keegan (Anchor)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending," September 2005)

"Keegan's now classic description of what it was like to be an ordinary soldier on the Agincourt, Waterloo, or Somme battlefields is harrowing, humane, profound."

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The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West, by Gilles Kepel (Belknap)
Reviewed by Peter Beinart ("Backfire," March 2005)

"[Kepel's] discussions of the competing strains in Saudi Islamist thought and the influence of Internet imams on Muslims in France are worth the book's price alone. Yet amid this intricate history and fascinating micro-sociology are bizarre, unsupported assertions."

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The Education of a French Model, by Kiki (Belmont Books)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("The Lady Is a Tramp," July/August 2005)

"A smashing little memoir, with an introduction by a thoroughly smashed Ernest Hemingway, by Kiki de Montparnasse, the artist's model who was muse or whore to artist or john (depending on the soir) in Paris in the 1920s."

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The Fourth Network : How FOX Broke the Rules and Reinvented Television, by David M. Kimmel (Ivan R. Dee)
Reviewed by Tom Carson ("The Murdoch Touch," January/February 2005)

"As a straightforward recap of how Murdoch did it—from buying Metromedia and assembling a ragtag group of indie affiliates to dickering with Congress and an FCC so happy to lean backward for him that it was nicknamed the Fox Communications Commission—The Fourth Network is an informative read. Its limitation is that despite his sweeping subtitle, Kimmel is really interested only in the business side of the story, and in a fairly pedestrian way."

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Chanel, edited by Harold Koda and Andrew Bolton (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Yale)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Elements of Style," July/August 2005)

"This swank book ... focuses on the continuities and evolution of the style of the house of Chanel from its inception, before the First World War, to its current permutation under the direction of Karl Lagerfeld. Fashion writing tends toward the gaseous, but Koda's introduction and the text of the exhibition catalogue nicely explain Chanel's innovations, clearly define the essential qualities of her designs, and concretely convey the workings of cut and construction."

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Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, by George Lakoff (Chelsea Green Publishing)
Reviewed by Marc Cooper ("The Lost Crusade," April 2005)

"A feel-good self-help book for a stratum of despairing liberals who just can't believe how their commonsense message has been misunderstood by the eternally deceived masses."

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Seven Pillars of Wisdom, By T. E. Lawrence (Anchor)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending," September 2005)

"For insights into imperialism, the modern Middle East, and the kinky, coquettish personality of the twentieth century's strangest Englishman, this book is matchless."

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How to Win Millions Playing Slot Machines! ... or Lose Trying, by Frank Legato (Bonus Books)
Reviewed by Marc Cooper ("Sit and Spin," December 2005)

"Legato ... knocks down every hoary myth about how to win at slots. Regardless of which mechanical apparatus is added; regardless of how many funny cartoons there are; 'regardless of whether they play the song from a TV show, give the player a board game to play, play the overture from Les Misérables, or get down on one knee and sing 'Mammy,' all modern slot machines are computers.'"

Louis I. Kahn, by Robert McCarter (Phaidon)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("He Found It at the Movies," September 2005)

"[A] nearly 500-page triumph of bookmaking—handsomely designed, clearly and perceptively written, comprehensive in scope, luxuriantly graced with photographs and illustrations."

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Confessions of a Slacker Mom, by Muffy Mead-Ferro (Da Capo Press)
Reviewed by Sandra Tsing Loh ("Marshal Plan," March 2005)

"Mead-Ferro ... practices such control over rampant familial consumerism that it's almost Zen. The Slacker Mom, among other things, does not childproof, buy educational toys, make memory scrapbooks, pick superior preschools, drive her kids to a flurry of after-school lessons, or videotape athletic events—or even, particularly, show up at them."

.....

The Three-Martini Playdate, by Christie Mellor (Chronicle Books)
Reviewed by Sandra Tsing Loh ("Marshal Plan," March 2005)

"If the nineties were the romantic, feelings-centered, nurture-over-nature era of child-rearing, in the aughts Three-Martini Playdate advocates a highly structured return to civilization, if not actually its discontents."

.....

The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution 1763-1789, by Robert Middlekauff (Oxford University Press)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Clothes-Minded," March 2005)

"First released twenty-three years ago, this book, just published in an expanded and thoroughly revised edition, remains the best one-volume history of the American Revolution, and among the best narrative American histories of the past half century."

.....

The Meaning of Independence: John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, by Edmund Sears Morgan (University Press of Virginia)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Clothes-Minded," March 2005)

"There's simply no better way of comprehending Washington and Adams than reading this book, which has been reissued in an updated edition."

.....

Against the Beast, by John Nichols (Nation Books)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("The Lost Crusade," April 2005)

"Nichols too often lets his political prejudices get the better of his professed non-interventionism—and in so doing shirks his editorial responsibilities. Hence we're treated to the less than penetrating sloganeering of Tim Robbins and Patti Smith regarding the war in Iraq; but in a chapter devoted to post-Cold War foreign policy Nichols skips from opposition to the first President Bush's adventures in the Gulf to opposition to the second's."

.....

Seize the Fire: Heroism, Duty, and the Battle of Trafalgar, by Adam Nicholson (HarperCollins)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("Triumph at Trafalgar," October 2005)

"Adam Nicholson's masterly reconstruction of this event stresses one thing above all: that it was a victory of the Protestant ethic, and to a lesser extent a victory of the spirit of capitalism... he devotes a good deal of space to the economic and religious substrata of the combat between Britain and its French and Spanish foes."

.....

Isherwood: A Life Revealed, by Peter Parker (Random House)
Reviewed by Thomas Mallon ("Darling Me," January/February 2005)

"[Isherwood] did of course have a character, however often he blurred it in fiction, and the elements from which it cohered are given vivid if delayed expression by Parker's huge book."

.....

Video Poker Optimum Play, by Dan Paymar (ConJelCo)
Reviewed by Marc Cooper ("Sit and Spin," December 2005)

"In his straightforward Video Poker Optimum Play the retired computer expert and part-time poker-dealer instructor Dan Paymar starkly outlines the [dismal odds of winning].... If you are willing to risk $24,000 a day, over the long term you might make a little more than $150 a day."

.....

Because I Said So, by Camille Peri and Kate Moses (HarperCollins)
Reviewed by Sandra Tsing Loh ("Kiddie Class Struggle," June 2005)

"I am suffering from Women's Anthology Fatigue. The subtitle of Because I Said So is '33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race & Themselves,' which alone exhausted me... [But] there are individual essays in the book that I really enjoy."

.....

New Art City, by Jed Perl (Knopf)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Passion in Fashion," December 2005)

"This almost impossibly rich book evokes, explores, illuminates, and analyzes the Manhattan art world of the 1940s through the early 1960s, a period that famously saw the 'triumph of American painting' and New York's concomitant rise to supremacy as the world's artistic capital."

.....

The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, by Miriam Peskowitz (Seal Press)
Reviewed by Sandra Tsing Loh ("Kiddie Class Struggle," June 2005)

"The Mommy Wars of which Peskowitz writes ... pit working moms against stay-at-homes. But Peskowitz argues that this is a false division."

.....

California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown, by Ethan Rarick (California)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Golden State," June 2005)

"This sometimes excruciatingly detailed chronicle of [California Governor Pat] Brown's political history admiringly describes the infrastructure and programs, but omits analysis of their ultimate costs.... Rarick's unintentionally nostalgic account confirms what longtime residents of this most forward-looking state in the Union know in their bones: the Golden State's best days are behind it."

.....

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her, by Melanie Rehak (Harcourt)
Reviewed by Sandra Tsing Loh ("The Secret of the Old Saw," October 2005)

"Nancy's essential Drewness ... lies in her ability to tie villains up and make tea sandwiches—the perfect legacy from her two very different mommies. Out of the fiery editorial marriage of rough-and-tumble Mildred and refined Harriet came a perfectly behaved, kick-ass goddess-sleuth."

.....

In Command of History, by David Reynolds (Random House)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("War Without End," November 2005)

"Reynolds carefully and engagingly separates what actually happened in 1939-1945 from Churchill's version of those events."

.....

John Brown, Abolitionist, by David S. Reynolds (Knopf)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("The Man Who Ended Slavery," May 2005)

"[Reynolds] succeeds admirably in showing that Brown, far from being a crazed fanatic, was a serious legatee of the English and American revolutions who anticipated the Emancipation Proclamation and all that has ensued from it."

.....

The Command of the Ocean, by N.A.M. Rodger (Norton)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Eminent Domains," May 2005)

"The second installment of Rodger's projected three-part naval history of Britain is one of very few books that actually warrant the adjective 'magisterial.' In this 900-plus-page volume ... Rodger elucidates the Royal Navy's rise to global preponderance and its consolidation as the single most influential institution in the nation's life."

Born Losers: A History of Failure in America, by Scott A. Sandage (Harvard University Press)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("An Exquisite Slogger," January/February 2005)

"In this book about the cultural ramifications of economic failure in nineteenth-century America, Sandage has taken on an important and underexamined subject and scrutinized it in inventive ways, using unexpected and largely unmined sources."

.....

Crazy Horse, by Mari Sandoz (Nebraska)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Another World," October 2005)

"The most accomplished biography of Crazy Horse and one of the best and most moving books ever written about the American West, a strange, often unsettling work."

.....

Understanding Dante, by John A. Scott (Notre Dame)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("The Lost Crusade," April 2005)

"Scott has accomplished the nearly impossible: he has married close interpretation with broad synthesis—and in clear, often vigorous prose. This is a significant and deeply satisfying book."

.....

Undressing Infidelity, by Diane Shader Smith (Adam Media Corporation)
Reviewed by Cristina Nehring ("Fidelity with a Wandering Eye," July/August 2005)

"Women need more than security to thrive, it seems. In fact, they often court the square opposite of security, as Diane Shader Smith learned when she began interviewing women for Undressing Infidelity."

.....

War in the Wild East: The German and Soviet Partisans, by Ben Shepard (Harvard University Press)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("An Exquisite Slogger," January/February 2005)

"Analyzing the official paperwork of three army security divisions responsible for the suppression of Soviet insurgents, Shepherd focuses on the conduct and motivation of field officers, who served as the crucial links that 'converted the ideological, military, and economic imperatives of the Third Reich's war of extermination into action.'"

.....

The Life of Graham Greene, Volume 3: 1956-1991, by Norman Sherry (Viking Adult)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("I'll Be Damned," Month 2005)

"Sherry's work is so replete with absurd and sinister remarks by Greene on his travels as a tourist of revolution in the Caribbean and Latin American zone that one could fill this page with balls-aching propagandistic remarks that impeached him out of his own mouth."

.....

Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, Edited by Valerie Steele (Charles Scribner's)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Passion in Fashion," December 2005)

"The three-volume, 1,600-plus-page Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion encompasses everything from Albanian folk dress to the ultra-luxury designer Zoran.... The mostly crisp, authoritative entries ... prove addictive and fascinating."

.....

Edie: An American Biography, by Jean Stein, edited by George Plimpton (Grove Press)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("The Lady Is a Tramp," July/August 2005)

"Nearly thirty-five years after Edie Sedgwick's death from an overdose, at the age of twenty-eight, her glamorous vapor continues to intoxicate alienated, artsy, wannabe-anorexic teens.... The persistence of Edie's iconicity can be credited, paradoxically, to Stein's attempt to make real this woman whose short life was at once a sad waste of time and culturally, ad infinitum the time of seemingly everyone's life."

.....

The Lights that Failed, by Zara Steiner (Oxford)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Elements of Style," July/August 2005)

"[In] this 938-page volume, which covers the years from the Paris Peace Conference, in 1919, to Hitler's appointment as chancellor, in 1933, Steiner ... illuminates the world view and unspoken assumptions of her historical actors, rather than to impose an interpretation of the past based on subsequent events."

.....

Sinatra, by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan (Knopf)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Elements of Style," July/August 2005)

"Although Summers and Swan have laid some important groundwork for the considered and sprawling biography their subject merits, this slackly written, cobbled-together book is third-rate Vanity Fair fodder, not a biography."

.....

Directions to Servants, by Jonathan Swift (Hesperus Press)
Reviewed by Mona Simpson ("Serf Advisory," December 2005)

"Directions to Servants lacks the central conceit and driving polemic of A Modest Proposal, but delivers a gallery of sharp miniatures, in aggregate asserting the eternal spunk, appetite, ultimate dignity, and humanity of servants."

.....

Animal Rights, Edited by Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum (Oxford)
Reviewed by B. R. Myers ("If Pigs Could Swim," September 2005)

"Among the eloquent essays compiled by Cass Sunstein and Martha Nussbaum in the new book Animal Rights is one by Richard A. Posner, an advocate of 'humancentricity,' who asks, 'Are the Spanish, who watch bullfights in which the bull is killed, more violent toward each other ... than Americans, who do not watch bullfights at all? I don't think so.'"

.....

Stephen Spender: A Literary Life, by John Sutherland (Oxford University Press)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("A Nice Bloody Fool," January/February 2005)

"It may be that Sutherland felt a need to compensate for previous injustices in the writing of this biography, but one sometimes has the sense that his dutifulness became a chore to him. The word 'idyllic' is employed so many times, even for scenes of relatively ordinary satisfaction at the seaside or in the countryside, that after a while I stopped circling it."

.....

From Here to Maternity: The Education of a Rookie Mom, by Beth Teitell (Broadway Books)
Reviewed by Sandra Tsing Loh ("Marshal Plan," March 2005)

"True Slacker Parents occasionally allow the television to babysit, and here is where Beth Teitell makes her most notable contribution to the Slacker Parenting field. She brashly admits, 'I let my kids watch TV. I don't just let my kids, I encourage it.'"

.....

Leigh Bowery: The Life and Times of an Icon, by Sue Tilley (Hodder & Stoughton)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("The Lady Is a Tramp," July/August 2005)

"Sue Tilley's biography ... offers a fascinating glimpse into the mundane business of being fabulous."

.....

V. S. Pritchett: A Working Life, by Jeremy Treglown (Random House)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("An Exquisite Slogger," January/February 2005)

"[Treglown's] refreshingly brisk book, which manages to compress Pritchett's story into fewer than 260 pages of text, is among the most intelligent and perceptive depictions of a writer's habits and routine, and of the economics of a literary profession, that I've read."

.....

Create and Be Recognized: Photography on the Edge, by John Turner and Deborah Klochko (Chronicle Books)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Strange Butterflies," June 2005)

"The editors have assembled the work of seventeen 'largely self-taught' photographers, from the schizophrenic Adolf Wolfli (1864-1930) to the Humbert Humbert-like Morton Bartlett (1909-1992).... The title scrawled by the outsider artist Howard Finster (1916-2001) on one of his loopy, out-of-focus Polaroids—'Strange Butterfly (Black Cross)'—suggests the hallucinatory beauty displayed here."

.....

Against All Hope: The Prison Memoirs of Armando Valladares, by Armando Valladares (Encounter Books)
Reviewed by Steve Wasserman ("Cuba Libre," December 2005)

"An antidote for those with a tendency to romanticize revolutionary despots, Valladares's memoir makes for compelling reading.... His was the first book to detail the abuses meted out by Castro and his men to those who fall from favor."

.....

Portraits, by Hellen van Meene (Aperture)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Strange Butterflies," June 2005)

"How Vermeer might have photographed—after a tab of LSD."

.....

London 1945, by Maureen Waller (St. Martin's)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("Eminent Domains," May 2005)

"[Waller's] 528-page book is at once abundantly and discerningly detailed, and her depiction of the daily fabric of wartime life in the capital is unrivaled ... This is a sad book about a city staggering to victory."

.....

Perfect Madness, by Judith Warner (Riverhead)
Reviewed by Sandra Tsing Loh ("Kiddie Class Struggle," June 2005)

"Warner dubs today's Problem That Has No Name 'The Mommy Mystique,' a gauzy tissue of beliefs that tell us 'we are the luckiest women in the world—the freest, with the most choices, the broadest horizons, the best luck, and the most wealth ... [and] that if we choose badly our children will fall prey to countless dangers.'"

.....

War and the Iliad, by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff (New York Review Books)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("The Lost Crusade," April 2005)

"In the early months of the Second World War two brilliant and despairing Frenchwomen of Jewish background each wrote an essay on the Iliad. Weil's 'The Iliad, or The Poem of Force"' and Bespaloff's 'On the Iliad' remain the twentieth century's most beloved, tortured, and profound responses to the world's greatest and most disturbing poem."

.....

Benjamin Franklin Unmasked: On the Unity of His Moral, Religious, and Political Thought, by Jerry Weinberger (University of Kansas)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("Free and Easy," November 2005)

"[An] elegant and fascinating companion to, and analysis of, the work of our cleverest Founding Father.... This is not an exposé of Benjamin Franklin's folie in respect of the fair sex—though it doesn't suffer from lack of attention to this intriguing subject. It is an attempt to describe, rather than to remove, the disguises that he assumed in a long and sinuous life."

.....

Pétain, by Charles Williams (Palgrave Macmillan)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("War Without End," November 2005)

"In this work of cool authority Williams—deputy leader of the opposition in the House of Lords and the author of biographies of De Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer—places Pétain's actions and attitudes in their precise and proper context."

Poetry

The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman , by William Langland, George Economou (Tranlator) (University of Pennsylvania Press)
Reviewed by Allan Gurganus ("One Great Book Per Life," March 2005)

"As our present political reality darkens toward fundamentalist tribal warfare that can leave us feeling daily more medieval, this medieval poem illumines itself as a consolation. Permeable in its clear wishes, gorgeous in its humane and unapologetic belief, it reassures us that the Seven Sins aren't actually Deadly."

.....

Collected Poems and Selected Prose, by Charlotte Mew (Carcanet Press)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending, Part 2," October 2005)

"Mew's poems are few, somber, and spinsterish, but in their sad, shriveled way supremely beautiful."

.....

The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot's Contemporary Prose, edited and annotated by Lawrence Rainey (Yale)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("A Breath of Dust," July/August 2005)

"[T]his latest attempt at context and explication has the effect, prefigured in earlier scrutinies, of helping to further demystify what is certainly the most overrated poem in the Anglo-American canon."

.....

Sent Off the Field: A Selection From the Poetry of Heberto Padilla, by Heberto Padilla (Deutsch)
Reviewed by Steve Wasserman ("Cuba Libre," December 2005)

"This slim volume from the late poet (arrested in Havana in 1971...) contains many of his most melancholy and incendiary verses—earning him Castro's enmity. It was not for nothing that Plato sought to banish poets from his ideal republic."

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