Book Reviews

James Raven, editor

Oxford University Press



Cultural conservatives of the late eighteenth century imagined a wide range of contemporary ills  that they blamed on the malign influence of untutored reading: a wave of suicides, set off by the reading of Werther and the writings of the philosophes; an epidemic of masturbation, spread through the solitary reading of erotic literature … and, most ominously, a growing incapacity of women afflicted with ‘reading addiction’ to distinguish adequately between fact and fiction and to attend responsibly to their daily chores.

     from The Oxford Illustrated History 
                of the Book


Maggie O’Farrell

Alfred A. Knopf



Mary inhales, shutting her eyes for a moment, as if mustering the final shreds of her patience. “Agnes,” she says, opening her eyes and fixing them on her son, “is with child. Says it’s yours.”

He gives a nod and a shrug, all at the same time, eyeing the broad back of his father, who looms behind his mother, still facing the street…

“Is it?” his mother says, her face white, stretched.

“Is it what?” …


“Is what mine?” …

Mary presses her lips together. “Did you put it there?”

“Did I put what where?”


                               from Hamnet


Megha Majumdar

Alfred A. Knopf



I learned English, the language of progress. I couldn’t get anywhere if I didn’t speak English, even I knew that. But I dreaded being asked to stand up and read from the textbook…The other girls, from middle-class homes where they read English newspapers and watched Hollywood films, disdained me. But in the slum, I was the only one with an English textbook, and who cared whether I was good or not? It was a place where most could not read a word—Bengali or English—and what I had was a great skill.

                         from A Burning


Ibram X. Kendi

Nation Books



Segregationist geneticists powered forward on their wild goose chase, trying to figure out something that did not exist: how the races differed genetically…“There is no such thing as a set of genes that belong exclusively to one [racial] group and not another,” University of Pennsylvania bioethics scholar Dorothy Roberts explained in her 2011 book Fatal Invention, in which she exposes the unscientific basis of biological races, race-specific genes, and race-specific drugs for race-specific diseases. “Race is not a biological category that is politically charged,” she added. “It is a political category that has been disguised as a biological one.”

      from Stamped From the Beginning


Colson Whitehead


The discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared, and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue.

                          from The Nickel Boys


Sonia Purnell

Penguin Books

Dubbed the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare,” the Special Operations Executive “found the search for a new type of rule-breaking recruit capable of ‘absolute secrecy’ and ‘fanatical enthusiasm’ rough going. Dyed-in-the-wool military types, with their concern for what they termed ‘ethics’ had to be kept away, as indeed did most of His Majesty’s ministers. A Cabinet colleague excluded the devout Anglo-Catholic foreign secretary Lord Halifax from SOE meetings, for instance, because he did not have what it took to ‘make a gangster.’”

 from A Woman of No Importance


Jerry Thompson


“I live here. And every time I drive to the coast, I see towns that are not long from now going to be under water from the next tsunami…The Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and the tsunami that’ll come with it will be virtually identical to the one in 2004 in Sumatra. It’ll dwarf 1906 (San Francisco). And Katrina. It’ll be many dozens of Katrinas all at once. Coastal towns from northern California to Canada will be virtually wiped out…It’s a little hard to go to the beach and just hang out there and enjoy it.”

Chris Goldfinger, marine geologist at Oregon State University, from Cascadia’s Fault


Erik Larson


The one universal balm for the trauma of war was tea. It was the thing that helped people cope. People made tea during air raids and after air raids, and on breaks between retrieving bodies from shattered buildings. Tea bolstered the network of thirty thousand observers who watched for German aircraft over England, operating from one thousand observation posts, all stocked with tea and kettles…Tea was comfort and history; above all, it was English. As long as there was tea, there was England.

      from The Splendid and the Vile


Brian Doyle

Little, Brown & Co

I am standing in the hospital watching babies emerge from my wife like a circus act. First out is a boy, dark-haired and calm, the size of an owl. He is immediately commandeered by a nurse who whisks him off for a bath and a stint in what appears to be a tiny tanning bed. Now, says the doctor, reaching around inside my wife while he talks, here’s the other one, and he hauls out another boy. This one is light-haired and not calm; he grabs for a nurse’s scissors and won’t let go and they have to pry his fingers off and the nurse looks accusingly at me for some reason and I want to say hey, I don’t even know the guy, but I don’t say anything, being overwhelmed with new roommates and tears and astonishment at people emerging from my wife one after another…

              from One Long River of Song



Karl Marlantes

Atlantic Monthly Press

    Louhi hesitated. “You must know my business by now.”
    “A boarding house.”
    Louhi laughed. Ilmari looked at her quizzically.
    “I finance whorehouses and saloons.”
    He blinked.
    Louhi could have been reading his mind. “(My daughter) has nothing to be ashamed of. I own the whorehouse. If you have trouble with it, now is the time to know.”
    “I am a strong Evangelical Lutheran.”
    “So are most of my customers.”

                from Deep River