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Review-a-Day

Monday, August 6th


 

When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina (Studies in Communication, Media, and Public Opinion) by W. Lance Bennett

Goodbye to Newspapers?

A review by Russell Baker

[Ed. Note. This review discusses the contents and context of two books: When the Press Fails: Political Power and the New Media from Iraq to Katrina and American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media.]

1.

The American press has the blues. Too many authorities have assured it that its days are numbered, too many good newspapers are in ruins. It has lost too much public respect. Courts that once treated it like a sleeping tiger now taunt it with insolent subpoenas and put in jail reporters who refuse to play ball with prosecutors. It is abused relentlessly on talk radio and in Internet blogs. It is easily bullied into acquiescing in the designs of a presidential propaganda machine determined to dominate the news.

Its advertising and circulation are being drained away by the Internet, and its owners seem stricken by a failure of the entrepreneurial imagination needed to prosper in the electronic age. Surveys showing that more and more young people get their...



No Good Deeds: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman

The Ninth Time Is a Charm

A review by Kevin Allman

"Smalltimore" -- the little-town interconnectedness between everyone and everything in big-city Baltimore -- informs Laura Lippman's latest Tess Monaghan mystery, No Good Deeds. This time out, the reporter-turned-P.I. is picking up some easy money teaching investigative techniques to greenhorn reporters at the daily paper. Meanwhile, her good-hearted but soft-headed musician boyfriend, Crow, is befriending a teenage would-be criminal who tried to run a penny-level scam on him.

With its varied neighborhoods, tangled politics and surfeit of quirky characters, Baltimore is a town prime for...



This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust

A Poignant Assessment of Our Ugly Civil War Toll

A review by Karen Long

Drew Gilpin Faust grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, visiting the cairns and killing fields of the Civil War. She is 60 now, the president of Harvard University, and still makes time to go to the graves of individual soldiers who died for the Union and Confederate causes.

A respected historian of the South, Faust put 10 years into the making of her sixth book, This Republic of Suffering, an examination of how the annihilation of more than half a million Americans in the Civil War transformed survivors, civic institutions and the nation.

It's a remarkable work -- poised...



American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Work by Susan Cheever

Scenes from an American Eden

A review by Marjorie Kehe

I don't know why Susan Cheever's publishers changed their minds and released her book a month early but I am grateful that they did. Because what dropped into my lap -- just at the height of the season of holiday excess -- was a trim (223 pages, with notes and bibliography) and pleasing volume that I had not been expecting. It was like having a Christmas present arrive early.

Cheever explains in her preface that sheer serendipity led her to write American Bloomsbury. She was asked -- somewhat offhandedly -- to prepare a preface for a new edition of Little Women. That experience caused...



The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Abhorring a Vacuum

A review by James Wood

If anyone still had a longing for the great American "social novel," the events of September 11 may have corrected it, merely through the reminder of an asymmetry of their own: that whatever the novel gets up to, the "culture" can always get up to something bigger. Ashes defeat garlands. If topicality, relevance, reportage, social comment, preachy presentism, and sidewalk smarts in sum, the contemporary American novel in its big triumphalist form are the novel's chosen sport, then the novel will sooner or later be outrun by its own streaking material. The novel may well be, as Stendhal...



Baudolino by Umberto Eco

Booklist

A review by Ingrid D. Rowland

In 1508, the Tuscan painter Giovanni Bazzi, known as "Il Sodoma," frescoed a cloister in the Benedictine abbey of Monteoliveto Maggiore with scenes from the life of Saint Benedict. He peopled his paintings with visions of Benedict as a pretty blond youth of modest dress and well-turned limbs, his cupid's-bow mouth set in pious resistance to the blandishments of what the abbey's English-language postcards call "tempting courtesans." In the midst of this painted chronicle of the medieval saint's manifold trials and triumphs, a strange apparition stares out at the viewer, a young brown-haired...



Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams by Charles King

Port of Memories

A review by Timothy Snyder

The 20th century defies nostalgia and mocks historical categories. For historians and others concerned with European civilization, the Holocaust disfigures the natural reflex to make sense of the past. Historians of contemporary Europe often pay little attention to the extermination of its Jews, while historians of the Holocaust generally separate their accounts from European history. Some social theorists see the Holocaust itself as an endpoint of modernity, and thus as a powerful reason to embrace a postmodern view of the world. Yet the historians who have tried to follow this prescription...



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