Book Review Roundup

Missed out on book reviews this weekend? We'll fill you in!

"Savages," Don Winslow
The New York Times

It's clear that "Savages" has no dearth of nerve from the snow-white, one-page opening chapter, which consists of exactly two words. The first one isn't "thank." The second one is "you."

"Rock Paper Tiger," Lisa Brackman
The New York Times

"Rock Paper Tiger" isn't the most subtle or penetrating of mysteries, and I'm not even sure I got all the plot lines figured out. Or that I needed to. But if your interests range wide and far, from the Iraq war to online gaming and the globalization of China, this may be your book.

"The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ," Philip Pullman
The New York Times, review by Christopher Hitchens

Philip Pullman, whose magical books for children are intended to displace Narnia and depose Lewis, is also very much interested in the Jesus myth and its ambivalence. The makers of Monty Python's "Life of Brian" dared only to propose that a very naughty boy had been born at the same time as Jesus in a stable adjoining his. Pullman outbids Python in profanity by having the Virgin Mary give birth to twins.

"William Golding: The Man Who Wrote 'Lord of the Flies'," John Carey
The Los Angeles Times

William Golding, the writer, has been a subject for study: reviews and critical essays, a bibliography and more than 100 books about the books. William Golding, the man, has been the subject of none.

"Anne Boleyn," G.W. Bernard
The Los Angeles Times

This is a disturbing book for the reader of Tudor history, as it carefully analyzes and then demolishes many of the statements that we are accustomed to taking as facts about the life of Anne Boleyn. Indeed, any student of any history will feel the earth shake slightly as G.W. Bernard boldly states the open secret: that most of the written record is hopelessly biased, based on gossip and speculation, that witnesses lie and that historians seek their own version of events.

"The French Revolution," Matt Stewart
The San Francisco Chronicle

On July 14, 2009, Bastille Day, Matt Stewart began posting his unpublished first novel, "The French Revolution" - in its entirety - on Twitter. He asked a friend to build a bot that automatically broke the novel into 140-character chunks, and over the course of a few weeks, the book went online in 3,700 discrete posts.

"The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham," Selina Hastings
The San Francisco Chronicle

Hastings is clearly a biographer who has read and appreciated the works of Trollope, and her spacious, dignified narrative goes through Maugham's long life and work like an expansive 19th century novel. The tortoise-like Maugham was mostly chained to his writing desk, away from which he had few interests other than playing bridge and hiring male prostitutes. Hastings repeatedly, and dubiously, alleges that the younger "Willie" Maugham was "attractive to both men and women"; "strikingly attractive"; "magnetically attractive to both sexes as a young man"; and "both men and women found his appearance intriguing."

"Getting It Wrong," W. Joseph Campbell
The Wall Street Journal

Hello, city desk, get me rewrite. Here's the lead: Many of the landmark moments in American journalism are carefully nurtured myths--or, worse, outright fabrications.

"Driving Home: An American Scrapbook," Jonathan Raban
The Guardian

One of Raban's objectives here is to sweep away what he calls "the brain-curdling effects of degraded late-Romanticism". He reads landscape as William Empson taught him to read literature, alive to its historical layers and the ambiguities they contain. It's in this spirit that he sustains a vigorous assault on the "cult of 'pristine' wilderness" and argues that it's time to "retire the language of the sublime". To demonstrate, he casually dismisses a glorious Seattle sunset as "a busy day at the slaughterhouse".

"The Youth Pill," David Stipp
The Wall Street Journal

As we learn in David Stipp's "The Youth Pill," research may be finally catching up with aspiration. "The rate of aging in widely diverse organisms [turns] out to be not only amazingly plastic but also controlled in a way that has enabled scientists to slow it down with readily available interventions," writes Mr. Stipp, a former reporter for Fortune magazine and The Wall Street Journal.