Tuesday September 21st, 2010

The Beat

A weekly roundup of noteworthy reviews from other sources.

franzenCharles Baxter reviews Jonathan Franzen’s latest. Finally, someone keeps this book from slipping under the radar. (”Freedom operates as a kind of morality play in which all the major players are drawn toward actions they should not perform and objects they either cannot or should not possess. . . . [Its] ambition is to be the sort of novel that sums up an age and that gets everything into it, a heroic and desperate project.”) . . . James Marcus reviews Robert Fox’s We Were There, which compiles firsthand accounts of how people experienced the 20th century. Marcus thinks the emphasis on World War II crowds out other events, but finds the book “valuable” in the end: “It vividly illustrates a general principle of such first-person testimonies: they are most interesting when they surprise us, when some element of human perversity creeps into the picture and messes with our expectations.” . . . “Told in a voice that echoes the magic cadences of Toni Morrison or the folk wisdom of Zora Neale Hurston’s collected oral histories,” Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns is, according to Lynell George, a “lush, expansive and harrowing history of the decades-long exodus of blacks, which became known as the Great Migration . . . when black people in the South disappeared, often under the cover of night, frequently leaving their sharecropper’s tools in the fields, their future plans and whereabouts a mystery to those they left behind.” . . . Susan Casey has written about great white sharks, and her new book returns to the ocean to look at surfers and extremely large waves. Matt Robinson says the book is “a sort of surfing safari, part educational (Ms. Casey interviews oceanographers, physicists, marine insurers) and part explorational—a search for something to gawp at.” . . . With Cultures of War, Pulitzer-winning historian John Dower has written a “thought-provoking, scholarly and deeply polemical book” about the lessons to be learned from Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9/11, and the Iraq war.