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Review-a-Day

Sunday, June 27th


 

My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson--His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous by Susan Cheever

Spirit against spirits

A review by John Sutherland

Alcoholics Anonymous proclaims itself the largest self-help movement in the world. With the fall of Communism, its integration into hospital rehabilitation therapy and court sentencing, and the adoption of its twelve-step programme for addictions ranging from chocolate, through cocaine, to sex, AA can only get bigger.

Once associated with sad old men in church basements, the fellowship has become chic. Two critically admired confessional best-sellers ("drunkalogs", in AA speak) currently testify to the fellowship's power to save: James Frey's A Million Little Pieces and Augusten Burroughs's Dry. Both authors loyally bear witness that "It Works!" — the slogan that is ritually chanted, after the Serenity Prayer, at the end of meetings. Given AA's twelfth tradition ("Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities"), it is impossible to know how well it actually does work. You cannot do market research in AA...



Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War by Judith Miller

A review by Adrienne Miller

It never ceases to shock, does it, the bloodlust of the human race? Not that germ warfare is exactly a "new" concept people were dipping arrowheads into "manure and rotting corpses" to make their weapons more deadly thousands of years ago. An account of mankind's race to destroy itself with biological and chemical weapons, Germs is such a deeply scary call to arms that one hopes the State Department's counterterrorism office reads it while there's still time.

Not that they don't know this stuff already. Indeed, Germs seems sickeningly prescient: "The World Trade Center attack [in 1993...



Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

A Revisionist's History

A review by David Garrow

In 1965, a fascinating political voice was silenced when a team of assassins gunned down Malcolm X, a man whose intellectual and religious journey had finally transformed him into an eloquent spokesman for human equality. No comprehensive and credible biography of this signally important black freedom advocate has appeared in more than 35 years, but now, in the appropriately titled Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, Columbia University professor Manning Marable fills this void with a landmark book that reflects not only thorough research and accessible prose but, most impressively, unvarnished ...



Wire to Wire (Tin House New Voice) by Scott Sparling

Portland Writer Scott Sparling's "Wire to Wire" is a Thrilling Noir Debut

A review by Doug Baldwin

In Michael Slater's world, fate is delivered atop a moving freight train. It comes in the form of a live electrical wire that smacks him in the head while he attempts to smoke a joint.

"The power line kissed his forehead. It lit him up like a torch and lit the joint with 33,000 volts, but Slater never had a chance to inhale."

So begins Wire to Wire, Portland writer Scott Sparling's smart, thrilling and darkly funny debut novel. It reportedly took Sparling more than 20 years to write this book, but it reads like lightning.

Sparling launches the narrative in Manhattan. It's 1981 and...



Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carre

Still the Spymaster

A review by Todd Gitlin

The week I opened up John le Carre's latest bitter excavation of the spiritual affinities of criminal Russians and their Western counterparts, ten Russian spies under deep cover for somewhat indeterminate purposes were rounded up in America. Meanwhile, in Siberia, the mayor of a fishing village on Lake Baikal was on trial at the behest of the FSB, the country's chief domestic security agency, charged with abuse of power for having filed suit (on public safety grounds) against a resort under construction. (The resort in question happened to be owned by the FSB.) I could practically hear le...



Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear by Javier Marias

No Name or Too Many? On Javier Marias

A review by William Deresiewicz

"One life, one writing," Robert Lowell said. The writer's experience is all of a piece, and so too, however disparate it may seem, is the work to which it gives rise. The personal emphasis here is typically poetic, but novelists have long shared the desire to give a higher unity to their careers, transform a succession of works into something larger and more coherent. The method selected is apt to reflect its time. In the nineteenth century -- a period whose greatest inventions, it's been said, were society and history -- Balzac and Zola produced vast sociographic supernovels, many volumes...



Autobiography by Helmut Newton

Remembrance of Naked Chicks Past

A review by Charles Taylor

If all obsessives were as content as Helmut Newton seems to be, the world would be a happier place. Maybe it's easy to be happy when you're as self-involved as Newton cheerfully admits he is.

Perhaps people looking at the icy eroticism of Newton's high-fashion photography, images so precise they beg the adjective "Germanic," don't expect warmth. The striking thing about Newton's Autobiography is that it both is and isn't what you'd expect from the man. The warmth of the book comes from Newton's memories of what gave him pleasure. He seems oblivious to anything else, even Adolf Hitler...



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