Book Review Roundup

Your weekly book review roundup is back again:

"Talking About Detective Fiction", P.D. James
The New York Times

...[D]ispelling any doubts as to whether the nearly 90-year-old, demure-looking Ms. James has the toughness to dissect the world of crime writing, "Talking About Detective Fiction" goes on to offer many precise examples of what Ms. James admires and what she doesn't. Her opinions are often surprising and determinedly contrary.

"Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong", Terry Teachout
The New York Times

Despite his incalculable contributions to American culture, there has never been a fully adequate narrative biography of Louis Armstrong. Terry Teachout now fills that void with "Pops." He begins by suggesting how this omission came to be, then persisted for so long.

"American Sketches: Great Leaders, Creative Thinkers, and Heroes of a Hurricane", Walter Isaacson

...[F]ine journalists and good writers aren't necessarily cut out to be intellectual mandarins. And as these previously published articles, reviews, character sketches and essays demonstrate, Mr. Isaacson is a run-of-the-mill intellectual pooh-bah but at his best as a journalist and writer.

"The Last Empress", Hannah Pakula
The Los Angeles Times

"The Last Empress" is a beautifully designed book, with an inviting cover and an excellent array of photographs. Unfortunately, what lies between the covers is not as magical.

"Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits", Linda Gordon
The Guardian

...[T]his is a long-overdue study of a great and pioneering photographer - albeit one who never quite escaped the long shadow of the decade that she helped to define and that so defined her.

"The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy", Translated by Cathy Porter
The Guardian

For Leo Tolstoy and his extended household, diaries were an early version of Facebook. Everyone had his or her own page, and most people were fanatical recorders of their own feelings. The great man himself kept voluminous diaries, making entries almost to the day of his death. His doctor, his secretary, his disciples, his children, and - most of all - his wife also kept journals. Of these, the greatest diarist of them all was Sofia, the Countess Tolstoy.

"Hellraisers", Robert Sellers
The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Sellers, a British journalist, appears to have deftly culled various memoirs and articles for ripe anecdotes, and he has interviewed a number of eyewitnesses. The result is a very British book, whose tabloid relish for the boozy excesses of its unlikely quartet of star actors is marinated in the country's laddish pub culture.

"The Art Student's War", Brad Leithauser
The Washington Post

Many novelists are in unrequited love with an idea of their home towns. With "The Art Student's War," Leithauser, a Detroit native, delivers a homage of depth and texture to the churning wonder that was Detroit in its golden age. It makes for poignant reading in a season when Motor City is on the ropes.