Our 7 Most Favorable Reviews in January 2024

  • February 5, 2024

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

Our 7 Most Favorable Reviews in January 2024

November 1942: An Intimate History of the Turning Point of World War II by Peter Englund; translated by Peter Graves (Knopf). Reviewed by Larry Matthews. “There are thousands and thousands of books about World War II. Some are fiction. Some are scholarly. Yet rarely do they offer the kind of detailed global photograph of the conflict that Peter Englund produces in November 1942. Englund is a Swedish historian and journalist and a member of the Swedish Academy, which selects winners of the Nobel Prize. His research here is nothing short of astonishing.”

Above the Fire: A Novel by Michael O’Donnell (Blackstone Publishing). Reviewed by Chris Rutledge. “At its heart, Above the Fire is a story of parental love. Doug watches Tim not just with nervousness over keeping his son from harm but also with awe and admiration for who the boy is becoming. Parents will recognize that sense of amazement. The child grows physically and mentally, gaining skills you never thought possible. The parent thinks, ‘I must have done something right.’ But deep down, we know we deserve but a small amount of the credit. The glow comes from within the child, from some unimaginable place. It is a joy to see.”

Homer and His Iliad by Robin Lane Fox (Basic Books). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “Scholars have trotted out scads of grandly intellectual questions about Homer’s Iliad. Among them: Did this clash of arms really happen as its creator or creators describe it? Was the doomed city we now call Troy a real place? Could a lone — and purportedly blind — poet have composed this 15,000-verse masterpiece from scratch, and in his head? Other commentators skirt the controversies, maintaining that the Iliad is so brilliant an artistic achievement that the underlying facts of its creation are less important than its sheer power and narrative unity. Oxford classicist Robin Lane Fox, in Homer and His Iliad, gracefully straddles the critical divide.”

What the Taliban Told Me by Ian Fritz (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by Stephen Case. “Sorting out the deep conflict between his military duty and his human empathy stressed Fritz to the point that the Air Force excused him from serving on additional flights. He finished his enlistment, in part, by teaching other USAF personnel and taking courses at a community college. He then enrolled at Columbia University and, later, in medical school. On his med-school application, Fritz wrote that he ‘relished the academic rigor I encountered at Columbia.’ Readers will likewise relish the remarkable depth, breadth, and frankness of his eye-opening, unusually reflective memoir.”

Uncivil War: The British Army and the Troubles, 1966-1975 by Huw Bennett (Cambridge University Press). Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski. “His most powerful chapter is ‘The Road to Bloody Sunday,’ in which his analysis of that event and the British government’s reaction to it reveals a wound still quite raw on both sides. On Sunday, January 30, 1972, British Army forces shot dead 13 unarmed Irish Catholic anti-internment protesters. Bennett says in the immediate aftermath of Bloody Sunday, the British government ‘denigrated the victims and instigated a whitewash inquiry.’”

By the Numbers: Numeracy, Religion, and the Quantitative Transformation of Early Modern England by Jessica Marie Otis (Oxford University Press). Reviewed by Jay Hancock. “Recent scholarship examines the contributions of smiths, architects, and other artisans, as well as those of dead-ender alchemists and astrologers. Otis’ research includes looking at the marginal scratchwork of 17th-century students in hundreds of surviving arithmetic textbooks. If her focus seems narrow, the material is momentous. The growth of English numeracy augured the science revolution and an economic bang that lifted billions of people from poverty. Otis does not dwell on this. Perhaps she prefers to avoid the other anachronistic error of standing in the past and looking too far ahead. But to read By the Numbers, with its illustrations of old accounts and arithmetic textbooks, is to see the fuse being lit.”

Our Hidden Conversations: What Americans Really Think About Race and Identity by Michele Norris (Simon & Schuster). Reviewed by William Rice. “The author reinforces a hopeful reading with her graceful, sympathetic, insightful oversight of the material. Norris, who is Black, is able to offer expert interpretation and explanation of white racism in all its myriad forms to the close-minded or ill-informed. But she displays equal-opportunity empathy for the human experience — whether suffering, frustration, or joy — regardless of the race of the person experiencing it.”

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