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Review-a-Day

Wednesday, March 26th


 

Mirror of the Arab World: Lebanon in Conflict by Sandra Mackey

Studying Lebanon to Unlock Middle East

A review by Michael Lukas

At the end of Mirror of the Arab World, Sandra Mackey acknowledges her publisher's editor in chief, Starling Lawrence, "who has so wisely recognized the value of books on the Middle East for the nonspecialist reader." Lawrence is right to want to publish popular books about the Middle East. And Mirror of the Arab World embodies much of what we want from such books. Evenhanded on even the most sticky and controversial issues, the book is readable and to the point. However, anchored as it is to a somewhat flimsy conceit, Mirror of the Arab World is doomed from the start.

The basic premise of Mirror is that Americans can best understand the Arab world by viewing it through the lens of recent Lebanese history. "By examining the Lebanese experience," Mackey writes. "I intend to lead the reader into the Arab world to glimpse its complexities, frustrations and virtues." This is where the ship begins to sink. Although recent Lebanese history can surely be used to illustrate certain trends...



The President's Last Love by Andrey Kurkov

As Smart as a Hedgehog

A review by Stephen Abell

The Russian expression "eto yozhu yasno" -- which broadly means "clear-cut", "straightforward" -- is a particularly appropriate description for the prose of Andrey Kurkov, who specializes in deceptively simplistic tales of the Ukrainian absurd. As something of a bonus, the phrase literally means "clear to a hedgehog", which makes it more fitting, given Kurkov's childlike willingness to introduce animals into his fiction (Misha, the creature in the title of Death and the Penguin, 1996, being the most obvious and successful example). There are, regrettably, few animals in Kurkov's latest novel, ...



The Letters of John and Abigail Adams by John Adams

Pursuit of Happiness

A review by Gordon S. Wood

All the many thousands of people who presumably have read David McCullough's best-selling biography of John Adams know what a wonderful marriage John and Abigail Adams had. Their marriage was different in almost every way from those of the other prominent Founders. To many historians it seems almost modern, and over the years it has been idealized as such. Unlike the marriages of most of the other Founders, the Adamses' union appeared to offer little financial advantage to either party. Although Abigail's father, Reverend William Smith, was the minister in Weymouth, and her mother was a...



Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann

Weird Science

A review by Ron Charles

Measuring the World has sat on the German bestseller list for more than a year and sold more than 750,000 copies. In the American book market, that would require a teenage wizard or at least a conspiracy of crooked Jesuits. But 31-year-old Daniel Kehlmann is entertaining his countrymen with a story about Enlightenment-era scientists and references to isothermal lines and modular arithmetic. This sounds like something to be printed on graph paper, but it's actually more zany than brainy, and laughter almost drowns out the strains of despair running beneath the story.

Two very different...



Twin: A Memoir by Allen Shawn

A Review of "Twin", by Allen Shawn

A review by Heller McAlpin

Shortly after his mother's death at 99 in 2005, Allen Shawn -- the son of legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn and brother of actor and playwright Wallace Shawn -- began writing Wish I Could Be There, a book about phobias grounded in his firsthand experience. To his surprise, his autistic twin sister, Mary, who had been institutionalized since they were 8 and marginalized in his day-to-day existence for decades, emerged as a central figure in his life story.

A composer and music professor at Bennington College in Vermont, Shawn is equally unflinching and compelling in Twin, which...



Autumn of the Moguls My Misadventures by Michael Wolff

Me And My Moguls

A review by Eric Alterman

Whether or not you want to pick up a copy of Michael Wolff's new book depends on how you feel about passages like this one:

This was the meta thing. Meta gave both irony and gravitas to what we did. The delicious incongruity between our superficiality and our importance. The joie de vivre of self-referentialism. The stupendous, intoxicating power of being able to create the world we lived in ...

In fact, it depends on how you feel about such passages twice, because much of this book was previously published in Wolff's controversial weekly media column in New...



Out of Exile: The Abducted and Displaced People of Sudan (Voice of Witness) by Craig Walzer

Out of Exile -- The Sudanese Speak

A review by John Freeman

[Editor's note: The following review has been excerpted from the original that ran on Powells.com December 17, 2008.]

...In the past 50 years, the Sudanese civil war and the conflict between the north and south has claimed more than 3 million lives and displaced 8 million people.

Many of those who do survive escape with nothing but their story, something this essential collection of oral testimony records and, in a realistic way, celebrates.

They are amazing tales, full of chance and happenstance that occur in a shadow world where Cairo operates as a kind of hub, boomeranging people ...



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