The Critics October 2006

Cover to Cover

A guide to additional releases
More

CURRENT AFFAIRS

God and Country
by Monique El-Faizy (Bloomsbury)
Believers
by Jeffery L. Sheler (Viking)
Righteous
by Lauren Sandler (Viking)
The prevailing belief that “moral values” were the decisive factor in George W. Bush’s 2004 victory evidently set many a book proposal in motion, and now, just in time for the midterm congressional elections, we have a crop of books that take the measure of “evangelical America.” El-Faizy and Sheler, journalists who were raised as evangelicals but subsequently moved away from the church, visited many of the same locations—the Saddleback megachurch; Colorado Springs, the “evangelical Vatican”; Wheaton College; Christian-rock concerts—and deliver remarkably similar verdicts: evangelicals are a normal and unthreatening component of the American mainstream. Sandler, a self-described “unrepentant Jewish atheist” whose book focuses on evangelical youth culture, is considerably less sanguine about evangelicals’ burgeoning clout, but offers the most interesting conclusion: a call for the return of wonder, fellowship, and authenticity to the secular public sphere.

Welcome to the Homeland
by Brian Mann (Steerforth)
Mann, a public-radio reporter, produces one of the best books to date on the putative red-blue divide by focusing on interpersonal micropolitics (much of the book consists of a running dialogue with his more conservative brother) as well as macro trends that often get left out of the debate (the fact, say, that atheists and agnostics are the fastest-growing religious groups in the country) and that complicate the dominant perception of politicized evangelical hordes rising in lockstep.

Does American Democracy Still Work?
by Alan Wolfe (Yale)
Wolfe, a political scientist, answers his title question with a qualified yes, although he notes with alarm that incuriosity, partisanship, and cynicism—by voter and politician alike—imperil the whole enterprise. Familiar complaints, all, but Wolfe’s urgency is compelling and leaves no doubt that he really means it this time.

The Accidental Investment Banker
by Jonathan A. Knee (Oxford)
A refugee from the investment-banking implosion that accompanied the various other bubble bursts of the late ’90s, Knee argues that his profession has sold out its legacy of independence and solid judgment, much to its own shame—and to the clear and present danger of those affected by its decisions (which is to say everyone).

HISTORY

Redemption
by Nicholas Lemann (FSG)
The author of The Promised Land and The Big Test offers this engrossing chronicle of white Southerners’ violent (and once-celebrated) rollback of Reconstruction in the 1870s. This book reveals the volatile ways in which history, politics, and pop culture can influence one another and perpetuate falsehood.

Supermob
by Gus Russo (Bloomsbury)
The story of Sidney Korshak, the legendary fixer for the Chicago mob who manipulated Hollywood, Las Vegas, and certain key sectors of the political realm through a combination of sweetheart deals and good old-fashioned muscle. That he remains largely unknown—and that the type of creative bookkeeping and influence peddling in which he specialized is not altogether shocking today—is a backhanded testament to his significance.

The War of the World
by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press)
This ambitious, if not entirely satisfying, explication of twentieth-century violence by the scintillating (but too-prolific) historian is a companion to Ferguson’s British television documentary. Although his ultimate conclusion—that the twentieth century represented not the triumph of the West but rather its decline—is bracing, it reads as a bit of an afterthought to the somewhat patchwork whole.

Caesar
by Adrian Goldsworthy (Yale)
A monumental biography of the Roman leader that wisely confines itself primarily to contemporaneous sources (much of the information that other biographers have drawn on, while still ancient, was not written until long after Caesar’s murder). Golds-worthy, a British classicist and the author of a number of innovative studies of Roman military history, writes with great style.

SOCIETY AND CULTURE

The Shape of Things to Come
by Greil Marcus (FSG)
The famed rock critic turns his kitchen-sink approach to the role of secular prophecy in recent American history, expanding the circle beyond John Winthrop, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. to include the oracular properties of Philip Roth, David Lynch, Allen Ginsberg, and (to quote a representatively offbeat chapter title) the actor Bill Pullman’s face. This last captures what’s most exhilarating about Marcus’s style: the ability to take an obscure, borderline-absurd object and animate it with genuine meaning.

The Price of Admission
by Daniel Golden (Crown)
An ivory-tower exposé from a Wall Street Journal education reporter detailing the extent to which elite-college admissions rules are bent for children of the rich and famous. How alarming Golden’s revelations really are depends on whether one considers the subject a vital index of social mobility or a tempest in a gilded teapot.

Social Intelligence
by Daniel Goleman (Bantam)
The author of the best-selling Emotional Intelligence (and a former New York Times science correspondent), Goleman rounds up the latest research in social neuroscience, arguing that human beings are hardwired for compassion and fellow feeling, and that the pressures of modern life take an unavoidable neurological toll on all of us. Goleman has a knack for making complex science accessible to the lay reader, and he steers well clear of self-help platitudes in coming to his unexpectedly moving conclusions about our innate connectedness.

The United States of Arugula
by David Kamp (Broadway)
Focusing on such eccentric and influential foodies as James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and Julia Child, Kamp, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, traces the rise of gourmet cooking in America. Culturally aware and cleverly written, this anatomy of the French-fried versus sun-dried tension at the heart of American gastronomy is refreshingly non-snooty.

A Well-Paid Slave
by Brad Snyder (Viking)
A biography of Curt Flood, the idiosyncratic, classical-piano-playing center fielder who took his quest for free-agency rights all the way to the Supreme Court, in the process becoming the reluctant Spartacus of North American professional sports.

FICTION

When Madeline Was Young
by Jane Hamilton (Doubleday)
Hamilton, who wrote the best-selling Book of Ruth and Map of the World, has established herself among the most graceful and thoughtful writers to work the fertile ground that is the midwestern family. In this case, the family she probes with her gentle yet insistent touch includes a first wife who, after suffering brain damage in a bicycle accident, becomes essentially a third child who will never grow up. A lesser writer might be tempted to milk the situation for sensationalism, but Hamilton understands that an accident is usually just an accident, and that real people are both adaptable and complex.

Paint It Black
by Janet Fitch (Little, Brown)
A second lushly written, dramatically plotted novel by the author of White Oleander. Once again, the relationship between a powerful older woman and a less-sure younger one drives the story, and Fitch’s Los Angeles is so real it breathes.

A Spot of Bother
by Mark Haddon (Doubleday)
The title of this moving English comedy refers to the madness into which a dignified paterfamilias descends, as unobtrusively as possible, while the rest of his family is distracted by their various pursuits of love. Haddon’s first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, was acclaimed for its remarkable point of view: that of an autistic boy. Here, too, the story depends upon Haddon’s empathic assumption of his characters’ perspectives. And it’s awfully funny, besides.

MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE

Fear of the Dark
by Walter Mosley (Little, Brown)
Walter Mosley brings us the third book in his Fearless Jones series. Fans of Mosley’s Easy Rawlins stories will find in this new series all of the author’s usual strengths: a dark glimpse at the pervasive racism of 1950s America, relaxed prose with moments of tight brilliance, and dialogue that makes you feel like you’re living the story firsthand.

The Man Who Smiled
Henning Mankell (New Press)
The cantankerous and depressive (but still, somehow, tremendously appealing) Swedish Inspector Kurt Wallander is contacted by an old acquaintance who wants Wallander’s help in looking into the suspicious death of his father. When the acquaintance is himself murdered, Wallander comes out of a self-imposed retirement to solve both cases. First published in Sweden in 1994, this is the fourth in Mankell’s ten-book Wallander series (which is, much to the frustration of his fans, being released in the United States very slowly—and out of the original order to boot).

The Mission Song
John le Carré (Little, Brown)
From the master of the spy novel comes yet another story about an unlikely hero, this time a multilingual interpreter based in London. The subject of The Mission Song is Africa, where le Carré based his best-selling 2000 novel, The Constant Gardener (from which came the acclaimed 2005 film of the same name), and the author’s affection for that troubled continent is palpable.

Forgetfulness
by Ward Just (Houghton Mifflin)
Just’s fourteen previous novels have included finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Here he trains his considerable skill on making the political personal with regard to terrorism. How does a painter and onetime- sometime CIA operative respond when his wife is murdered? Written in a style both taut and reflective, this is suspense of the highest order.

Jump to comments
Presented by
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Fascinating Short Film About the Multiverse

If life is a series of infinite possibilities, what does it mean to be alive?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In