Friday October 16th, 2009

The Beat

A weekly roundup of noteworthy reviews from other sources.

slater-bio-of-dickensTwo critics on the other side of the Atlantic praise a new biography of Charles Dickens. John Bowen: “At nearly 700 pages, this is a lightweight next to many of its precursors, several of which easily break the thousand-page barrier. But it is a triumph of compression, and immediately takes its place as the most authoritative, fair-minded and navigable of modern biographies.” And Simon Callow: “Cumulatively, it is profoundly moving, chronicling the constant restless interaction between the life and the work.” . . . John Gray reads a big new book about the history of democracy, and praises half of its conclusions. . . . Dwight Garner finds insight in John Keegan’s new history of the American Civil War, but wonders at the detached tone: “Distant and chilly, The American Civil War seems to have been written by a mainframe computer buried deep in a fortified bunker.” . . . John Self finds himself enjoying Sarah Waters’ new novel: “I’d read her last two (also Booker shortlisted) novels, Fingersmith and The Night Watch, and liked them to varying degrees without doing anything mad like declaring myself a fan, or hanging onto them. These tempered expectations meant that her new novel turned out to be a pleasant surprise.” . . . David Thomson writes two reviews of new Hollywood-star bios: A new look at Clint Eastwood that draws heavily on previous sources; and an oral biography of Robert Altman. (”[A] smart, amusing, lively book, full of anecdotes and a generous step toward perceiving the glorious and perverse ways of Altman himself.”) I’ve always found Altman overrated myself, but that’s a discussion for another time.