7 Most Favorable Reviews in May 2022

  • June 3, 2022

We came, we read, we gushed. Here’s a recap of the titles that left us especially warm and swoony last month.

7 Most Favorable Reviews in May 2022

A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson (Inkyard Press). Reviewed by Emma Carbone. “A Forgery of Roses combines art, fantasy, and a truly surprising mystery with authentic and respectful representations of anxiety and chronic illness — both of which are seen as points of strength rather than flaws. Myra and August’s romance and a final act filled with the surprise twists that are a hallmark of the best gothic literature further enhance this story in which a picture is worth much more than a thousand words.”

The War that Made the Roman Empire: Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavian at Actium by Barry Strauss (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski. “Few episodes in ancient history are more dramatic than the titanic clash of allies-turned-enemies Octavian and Marc Antony to establish their separate visions of Rome in the late 1st century BC. Culminating in a staggering set-piece naval battle along the rugged coast of western Greece in 31 BC, the winner would ultimately fix the former republic’s course toward empire — the greatest the world has ever known. In The War that Made the Roman Empire, ancient-history expert Barry Strauss delivers this timeless tale with erudition, insight, and a keen analysis of the major (and minor) players who set the world on fire.”

My Old Kentucky Home: The Astonishing Life and Reckoning of an Iconic American Song by Emily Bingham (Knopf). Reviewed by Stephen M. Vest. “Despite the reality that Foster, who wrote many minstrel songs, tried in ‘My Old Kentucky Home’ to present slavery as carefree while also telling a wrenching story of an enslaved man being sold to die in the sugarcane fields of the Deep South, the fact remains that ‘the song was sung by white men in blackface for years, entertaining white audiences,’ writes Bingham. Yet her book is not an attempt to distance her beloved home state from its problematic song, it’s an effort to understand both as fully as possible.”

Making History: The Storytellers Who Shaped the Past by Richard Cohen (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Andrew M. Mayer. “He follows the trail from ancient and medieval scholars and thinkers forward to Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Voltaire, and Gibbon, all the way to contemporary historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and Nikole Hannah-Jones and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. Superior footnoting is apparent throughout. Despite the vast array of figures, periods, and mindsets presented, Cohen argues persuasively that a single truth unites them all: Everyone who has ever recorded history was — wittingly or not — influenced by their own personal views and objectives. This was as true during the oral-history era of Thucydides and Herodotus as it was in William Randolph Hearst’s yellow-journalism age and our current world of fake news.”

Scoundrel: How a Convicted Murderer Persuaded the Women Who Loved Him, the Conservative Establishment, and the Courts to Set Him Free by Sarah Weinman (Ecco). Reviewed by Diane Kiesel. “There were 2,436 inmates on death row in January 2022. Four percent of those awaiting execution have been wrongfully convicted says the National Academy of Sciences. These travesties of justice are routinely written about. But Sarah Weinman’s Scoundrel isn’t about a wrongful conviction. Instead, it’s a near-flawless account of a wrongful exoneration and the havoc it wreaked on the lives of those who made it happen and those victimized by the killer they helped unleash.”

Sleepwalk: A Novel by Dan Chaon (Henry Holt and Co.). Reviewed by Alice Stephens. “We are at a tenuous moment as a planet, as a species, and as a nation. The American experiment is racing toward its own demise, choking on resentment, hate, and greed, and soaked in ultra-violence. Dan Chaon’s latest literary thriller, Sleepwalk, presents a hair-raising and entirely credible portrait of a near-future dominated by billionaires and their corporations, the rest of the population splintered into factions of white Christian nationalists and fringe religious cults, environmentalist and animal welfare communes, anarchist and computer hacker collectives, and other identity groups.”

Wild by Design: The Rise of Ecological Restoration by Laura J. Martin (Harvard University Press). Reviewed by Julie Dunlap. “A wetlands ecologist turned environmental historian, Martin explores fundamental questions at the intersection of the sciences and humanities. Her students at Williams College learn that history offers hope, and ‘that the present was not inevitable — and, therefore, that the future is not pre-determined.’ Yet a century of well-intended environmental management has been sullied by pseudoscience, racism, greed, and shocking blunders. Martin’s erudite perspective on these complexities shines throughout her incisive first book, Wild by Design: The Rise of Ecological Restoration.”

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