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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 02:55 | SYDNEY
Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 02:55 | SYDNEY

Two NY Times book reviews compared

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1 February 2012 10:45

Two pieces I spotted in the NY Times reveal the heights and depths to which the under-appreciated craft of book reviewing can be subject.

It shocks me slightly to report that the Times' lead critic, the celebrated Michiko Kakutani, has offered up this dull, timid review of Zbigniew Brzezinski's latest effort, Strategic Vision. Among the words I could stand never to read again in a review of a policy book, 'provocative', 'clear-eyed', and 'insightful' would be at the top of my list. Kakutani manages to avoid 'nuanced', thank goodness.

On the other side of the ledger, I offer Alexander Rose's review of 'Manstein', the book Jim Molan just blogged about. The review is not only informed by a deep and critical knowledge of the subject matter and the genre, it's also witty and razor sharp. The Montgomery quote is priceless:

In this respect, Melvin follows the dramatic arc long favored by other biographers of major World War II generals, like Nigel Hamilton in his trilogy on Montgomery and Forrest Pogue with his tetralogy on Marshall. As in “Manstein,” each man undertook a tedious but ultimately invaluable apprenticeship, which is followed by trying reversals redeemed by faith in his abilities and affirmation of his gifts, and then, finally, by vindication amid adulation. In other words, World War II is the grand climax not only of the 20th century, but also of the subject’s career; it is the historical moment that focuses our hero’s martial ambitions and realizes his talents — once latent, now patent.

Inspirational, absolutely, but all this is just a gumbo of dated historiography, hero-genius worship, the 19th-century Great Man Theory of History. Generals may conceive themselves deities — Montgomery, a monster of conceit, once reportedly opened a reading of the Gospel with the words, “And the Lord said unto Moses, and, in my opinion, quite rightly”— but historians and biographers must do better.

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