Refusing to play the game

31 March 2010
J. D. Salinger: A Life Raised High Kenneth Slawenski

Pomona Books, pp.423, 20

What sort of person would you expect to be bringing out a life of J. D. Salinger two months after his death, bearing in mind that Salinger was more obsessive… Read more


Annals of war

24 March 2010
The Iraq Papers John Ehrenberg, J. Patrice McSherry, José Ram

OUP, pp.528, 15.99

‘I was not an enthusiast about getting US forces and going into Iraq,’ Dick Cheney said in 1997, looking back on the First Gulf War. ‘I was not an enthusiast… Read more


The whirlwind and the saint

24 March 2010
Zeitoun David Eggers

Hamish Hamilton, pp.352, 18.99

Dave Eggers is the very model of the engaged writer. Since publishing his first book, the memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, he has branched out into all kinds… Read more


Method in his madness

24 February 2010
Fordlandia Greg Grandin

Icon Books, pp.416, 14.99

The car manufacturer Henry Ford dominates this remarkable book, managing, like Falstaff, to be its tragic hero, villain, and comic relief all at the same time. A gaunt, pacing figure,… Read more

A narrow escape

24 February 2010
The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs Starr Kenneth Gormley

Crown, pp.790, 35

For once, I felt sorry for Bill Clinton. It was January 1998, and the press reported that the President had had an intimate relationship with one Monica Lewinsky. In Independent… Read more


The great bailout

17 February 2010
On the Brink Hank Paulson

Headline, pp.453, 18.99

Hank Paulson’s new book is called On the Brink, but it could well have been entitled Over the Edge. Hank Paulson’s new book is called On the Brink, but it… Read more


Not ‘a boy-crazed trollop’

17 February 2010
Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and her Family’s Feuds Lyndall Gordon

Virago, pp.491, 20

For someone who barely left the house, Emily Dickinson didn’t half cause a lot of trouble. For someone who barely left the house, Emily Dickinson didn’t half cause a lot… Read more


Adventure with a difference

27 January 2010
Parrot and Olivier in America Peter Carey

Faber, pp.452, 17.99

Probably my opinion of this bold book is worthless. Peter Carey, having decided to write a novel about Alexis de Tocqueville’s visit to the United States in 1831-2, read, among… Read more


What a difference a gay makes

20 January 2010
City Boy Edmund White

Bloomsbury, pp.297, 18.99

Edmund White is among the most admired of living authors, his oeuvre consisting of 20-odd books of various forms — novels, stories, essays and biographies — though each one is… Read more

Just the bare bones

11 November 2009
The Humbling Philip Roth

Cape, pp.140, 12.99

It is impossible (as I prove in this sentence) to review Philip Roth without mentioning the surge of creativity that began when the author was around 60 and which now… Read more

Engrossing obsessions

4 November 2009
Blood’s a Rover James Ellroy

Century, pp.627, 18.99

With Blood’s a Rover James Ellroy finally finishes his ‘Underworld USA’ trilogy. With Blood’s a Rover James Ellroy finally finishes his ‘Underworld USA’ trilogy. It’s been eight years since the… Read more

Karl Marx got it right

14 October 2009
The American Civil War John Keegan

Hutchinson, pp.394, 25

Whether the refusal to allow the Confederate states the right to self-determination, flying as it did in the face of the Declaration of Independence, was the first overt act of… Read more

Joking apart

16 September 2009
A Gate at the Stairs Lorrie Moore

Faber, pp.322, 16.99

Free association underpins the comedy of Lorrie Moore’s writing — or perhaps the verb should be ‘unpins’, since her prose spins off in tangential, apparently affectless riffs. Free association underpins… Read more

Gut instincts

9 September 2009
Cleaving Julie Powell

Penguin, pp.294, 12.99

Julie Powell wrote Julie and Julia, a book (and now a film) in which she described her attempts to cook a huge number of recipes by the cookery writer Julia… Read more

Home is where the heart is

6 May 2009
Brooklyn Colm T

Viking, pp.252, 17.99

Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín Colm Tóibín’s Brook- lyn is a simple and utterly exquisite novel. The writing is so transparent, so apparently guileless, that I kept wondering what trickery Tóibín… Read more

The actress and the orphan

22 April 2009
Ask Alice D. J. Taylor

Chatto & Windus, pp.342, 16.99

Ask Alice combines two narratives, one beginning in 1904 in the emptiness of the American Midwest, the other in the muffled stasis of Edwardian rural England. The first follows the… Read more

Fame is still the spur

15 April 2009
God Bless America: Misadventures of a Big Mouth Piers Morgan

Ebury Press, pp.437, 17.99

In The Frenzy of Renown, Leo Braudy’s magisterial study of fame and its history, he identifies the principal allure of being a celebrity: ‘In the heart of the fan and… Read more

Lincoln’s legacy

7 April 2009
Team of Rivals Doris Kearns Goodwin

Penguin, pp.928, 10.99

Every so often American Presidents let people know that they are reading a book. When George W. Bush was seen clutching a copy of Andrew Roberts’s History of the English… Read more


The man for the hour

25 March 2009
The Gamble: General Petraeus and the Untold Story of the American Surge in Iraq, 2006-2008 Thomas E. Ricks

Allen Lane, pp.394, 25

At the turn of 2007, the United States was facing defeat in Baghdad. Shia and Sunni were on killing sprees, the supply line from Kuwait was under constant attack, and… Read more


The end of the affair

25 March 2009
Americans in Paris Charles Glass

Harper Press, pp.524, 20

Given the anti-Americanism displayed on every possible occasion by the French since the days of De Gaulle, and the crudely expressed contempt with which Americans have responded, particularly over the… Read more

Arthur at Camelot

14 January 2009
Journals: 1952-2000 Arthur Schlesinger, Jr, edited by Andrew Schlesinger and Stephen Schlesinger

Atlantic Books, pp.912, 30

Journals: 1952-2000, by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr, edited by Andrew Schlesinger and Stephen Schlesinger Before sitting down with this hefty doorstopper of a diary, first ask yourself whether you agree —… Read more

Was the Abdication necessary?

7 January 2009
The Eagle & the Crown Frank Prochaska

Yale, pp.240, 25

At least one very startling claim emerges in this study: according to her own account, Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, never consummated her first two marriages. Indeed, she never allowed any… Read more

Stars bright and dim

26 November 2008
State by State: A Panoramic Portrait of America Edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey

HarperCollins, pp.608, 16.99

Much great American writing is regional in a way that British or French writing never has been. Most of the best writing coming from the States inhabits a place which… Read more