Our 7 Most Favorable Reviews in June 2024

  • July 3, 2024

We came, we read, we gushed.

Our 7 Most Favorable Reviews in June 2024

Cunning Folk: Life in the Era of Practical Magic by Tabitha Stanmore (Bloomsbury Publishing). Reviewed by Salley Shannon. “While Cunning Folk is meant for a general audience, it has a strongly academic cast. In fact, the book sometimes reads like the pasted-together notes of a topnotch researcher, with little pruning of too-similar stories. (This is an observation, not a condemnation.) Read in short takes, the book is a delightful excursion. Open it randomly to any passage and you’ll enjoy a window into the lives of medieval people whose worries pretty much line up with our own. Of course that couple, sick child in their arms, walked 20 miles to see a well-regarded cunning woman. Is there a parent today who hasn’t done the modern equivalent? And along with all those entertaining anecdotes, you’ll absorb a lot of little-known history — and maybe even learn a few love spells.”

Bare Knuckle: Bobby Gunn, 73-0 Undefeated. A Dad. A Dream. A Fight Like You’ve Never Seen. by Stayton Bonner (Blackstone Publishing). Reviewed by Lawrence De Maria. “It’s a compelling, sad, hopeful, and sobering story all at once, and one with photographs, chapter notes, a bibliography, and an index worthy of a WWII biography. Bare Knuckle is an excellent, serious book. In it, Stayton Bonner has given us a history we may not like but should know.”

The Cleopatras: The Forgotten Queens of Egypt by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones (Basic Books). Reviewed by Rose Rankin. “Indeed, Cleopatra is one of the most famous women the world has ever known, but this outsized reputation has obscured the fact that the Cleopatra was actually Cleopatra VII, the last in a long line of Egyptian queens who shared not just her name but also her political acumen and colorful story. Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones takes a major step toward rectifying this oversight with The Cleopatras: The Forgotten Queens of Egypt, which digs deep into the historical record to bring this dynasty to life in an easily readable, powerful narrative that makes ‘Game of Thrones’ seem like child’s play.”

Shadow Men: The Tangled Story of Murder, Media, and Privilege That Scandalized Jazz Age America by James Polchin (Counterpoint Press). Reviewed by Dean Jobb. “The mystery of who killed the man, and why, would command headlines across the country for more than a year, ignite a political firestorm, and test the fairness of police, prosecutors, and judges. At stake was a question that reverberates from the Jazz Age to our own day: Is there one system of justice for the rich and another for the poor? In Shadow Men, true-crime writer and New York University professor James Polchin vividly exposes a disturbing, century-old tale of unequal justice.”

Chasing Beauty: The Life of Isabella Stewart Gardner by Natalie Dykstra (Mariner Books). Reviewed by Diana Pabst Parsell. “Like many women of her era who sought to keep their private lives private, she destroyed most of her letters and other personal papers. Yet in the dazzling Chasing Beauty, Dykstra found a way into Gardner’s life through diligent research that uncovered traces of the woman in the worlds she inhabited. Evocative and absorbing, the book benefits from an approach favored by Robert Caro, the acclaimed biographer of Lyndon B. Johnson. ‘If a place or setting played a crucial role in shaping a character’s feelings, drives, motivations and insecurities,’ Caro has said, ‘then by describing the place well enough, the author will have succeeded in bringing the reader closer to an understanding of the character.’ Here, place and setting figure hugely in showing the forces that influenced Gardner’s passion and aesthetic sensibilities.”

When Women Ran Fifth Avenue: Glamour and Power at the Dawn of American Fashion by Julie Satow (Doubleday). Reviewed by Kitty Kelley. “With style and sass, Satow tells the story of the trio who revolutionized retail at Bonwit Teller, Lord &Taylor, and Henri Bendel. Each of those plate-glass palaces, late and lamented, reigned as cathedrals to the carriage trade. While all three were purchased by men, each blossomed into profit and prestige under women, and Satow unspools their stories of success with polish and panache, writing of an era in which department stores were consumer wonderlands and rich emporiums of luxurious goods.”

The Death of Truth by Steven Brill (Knopf). Reviewed by Sarah Trembath. “Despite such shortcomings, The Death of Truth is a monumental achievement and a must-read for anyone with a disciplined attention span and the yearning to know what on earth is happening with the internet. The importance of this book cannot be overstated, and Brill is to be praised, even thanked, for this undertaking. The Death of Truth moves his crusade forward in vital ways.”

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