New York Times Review
WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. (One World, $28.) After his best-selling "Between the World and Me," Coates could have cashed in with a standard miscellany. Instead, this master class in the essay charts his ascension as perhaps the important critic of our time. REVOLUTION SONG: A Story of American Freedom, by Russell Shorto. (Norton, $28.95.) George Washington is the hub of Shorto's book, which artfully weaves together the stories of six individuals from the Revolutionary period to give a sense of how far-reaching a phenomenon the War of Independence was. SCHLESINGER: The Imperial Historian, by Richard Aldous. (Norton, $25.95.) Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. has found in Aldous an agreeably judicious biographer who gracefully balances an appreciation for his subject's talents as a writer of narratives and speeches with an acknowledgment of his shortcomings as a political analyst and aide. SMILE, by Roddy Doyle. (Viking, $25.) Doyle's 11th novel is the closest thing he's written to a psychological thriller: The protagonist's life goes off track after a stranger from his past shows up, reminding him of their Catholic school days amid signs of a deeper darkness the narrator refuses to confront. THE IMPOSSIBLE PRESIDENCY: The Rise and Fall of America's Highest Office, by Jeremi Suri. (Basic, $32.) A historian traces the changing role of the presidency from Washington onward, arguing that as the job has become increasingly complex it now involves more than a single person can handle. SCALIA SPEAKS: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived, by Antonin Scalia. Edited by Christopher J. Scalia and Edward Whelan. (Crown Forum, $30.) This collection of speeches and writing by the famously argumentative Supreme Court justice, who died in February 2016, offers a clear picture of his originalist interpretation of the Constitution. THE THREE LIVES OF JAMES MADISON: Genius, Partisan, President, by Noah Feldman. (Random House, $35.) America's fourth president shifted his political orientation at least three times in his life. Feldman marks the changes in his nuanced portrait of the founding father. THESE POSSIBLE LIVES, by Fleur Jaeggy. Translated by Minna Zallmann Proctor. (New Directions, paper, $12.95.) A Swiss-Italian writer presents short impressionistic takes on Thomas De Quincey, John Keats and the French Symbolist Marcel Schwob. FRIENDS DIVIDED: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, by Gordon S. Wood. (Penguin Press, $35.) Wood traces the long, fraught ties between the second and third presidents, and sides almost reluctantly with Jefferson in their philosophical smack-down. The full reviews of these and other recent books are on the web: nytimes.com/books
Publishers Weekly Review
National Book Award-winner Coates (Between the World and Me) collects eight essays originally published in the Atlantic between 2008 and 2016, marking roughly the early optimism of Barack Obama's presidency and the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. The selection includes blockbusters like "The Case for Reparations" and "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration," which helped to establish Coates as one of the leading writers on race in America, as well as lesser-known pieces such as his profile of Bill Cosby (written in late 2008, before the reemergence of rape allegations against Cosby) and a piece on Michelle Obama before she became first lady. The essays are prefaced with new introductions that trace the articles from conception to publication and beyond. With hindsight, Coates examines the roots of his ideas ("Had I been wrong?" he writes, questioning his initial optimism about the Obama Administration) and moments of personal history that relay the influence of hip-hop, the books he read, and the blog he maintained on his writing. Though the essays are about a particular period, Coates's themes reflect broader social and political phenomena. It's this timeless timeliness--reminiscent of the work of George Orwell and James Baldwin--that makes Coates worth reading again and again. (Oct.) This review has been corrected; an earlier version said he won the Pulitzer Prize, for which he was nominated; in fact he won the National Book Award. © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.