Tuesday February 15th, 2011

The Beat

A weekly roundup of noteworthy reviews from other sources.

bishopDwight Garner reviews three new volumes of work by Elizabeth Bishop, published to coincide with the centenary of her birth, including a volume of letters between her and her editors at The New Yorker: “It is repetitive, filled with dreary bookkeeping details and overly polite give-and-take. At the same time, there are those — and, full disclosure, I am among them — for whom this kind of shop talk from an adored poet and her serious editors is uncut catnip.” . . . Manjit Kumar reviews Philip Ball’s Unnatural, “a fascinating and impressive cultural history of anthropoeia — the centuries of myths and tales about the artificial creation of people. Ball explores what these fables reveal about contemporary views on life, humanity and technology as modern science has turned the fantasy of making people into reality.” . . . Damon Linker says a new book that explains religion through its ancestral origins is “an example of evolutionary psychology at its very worst: shifting abruptly between experimental data about modern civilized human beings and groundless speculation about our evolutionary ancestors; and reducing all human motivation to the desire to get laid; and presupposing what it seeks to prove.” . . . Arnold Hunt considers the history of the King James Bible. . . . Tom Shone reviews a “swift, smart, scrupulous” biography of Humphrey Bogart. . . . Diane Johnson assesses T.C. Boyle’s new novel about endangered species in California: “Though he’s been writing for a long time about America’s problems, Boyle usually does so more covertly, in a comic voice with comedy’s concealed agenda. Here, though, there’s the note of the preacher in despair that has surfaced sometimes in past novels.” . . . Matthew Hunte reviews Justin Taylor’s new novel, which concerns an anarchist commune that founds a new religion.