California Literary Review

Non-Fiction Reviews

Book Review: Naples Declared: A Walk Around The Bay by Benjamin Taylor


May 16th, 2012

Considering how “casual” the work is in its approach, you could, I suppose, call it a mere glimpse into the turmoil and tragedies that overcame Naples. Yet, in some ways, this technique proves far more vibrant than the traditional presentations of historical events which most of us have experienced in the course of our schooling. Not to say Taylor hasn’t studied his subject or done his extensive research.

Book Review: The Poems of Jesus Christ Translated by Willis Barnstone


May 9th, 2012

As Barnstone notes in his introduction, Aramaic has verse forms that are difficult to render in Western languages like Greek, Latin and eventually English. The Gospels, the “Good News” of Jesus, were written down and shared with the rest of the world in prose, not poetry. A vital link to the actual words of Jesus was lost.

Book Review: Good in a Crisis by Margaret Overton


March 11th, 2012

By withholding nearly all the details of her marriage, upbringing, and formative relationships with men (and women), she misses the opportunity for a more genuine self-realization and creates a void of understanding that tempts the reader to see all men in this light. This is disappointing on both fronts. There may be kind, compassionate, thoughtful men out there — one or two even exist in the book — but somehow they are not accessible to her. The question she really never asks is: Why?

Book Review: The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination


February 29th, 2012

It was at Oxford University that Burne-Jones found divine beauty and William Morris. They shared a love for medieval themes, what we now call Gothic Revival, and were attracted to the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Founded in 1848, the Pre-Raphaelites were a loose confederation of young artists in revolt against the false veneer of academic art.

Book Review: Some of My Lives: A Scrapbook Memoir by Rosamond Bernier


February 19th, 2012

Rosamond’s very early experiences with the great and famous were connected with her father’s love for music. Because he headed the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Orchestra, she went often to rehearsals and concerts as a child, and when conductors and soloists were invited to Sunday luncheons at the Rosenbaum’s regularly, she was enthralled by their artistic talk and liberated manners. Among those she encountered and admired then were Otto Klemperer. Nathan Milstein, Jose Iturbi, Eugene Ormandy among others. So collecting her anecdotal tales of their eccentricities and foibles began even then. She even speaks of the Philadelphia Orchestra as “her extended family.”

Book Review: George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis


January 19th, 2012

George Frost Kennan was one of the most influential of all American diplomats, as well as an historian and writer who won two National Book Awards and two Pulitzer Prizes. It was Kennan who, first in his “long telegram” sent from the American embassy at Moscow in February 1946, and then in his anonymous “X” article in Foreign Affairs the following year, laid out for policy-makers, and then for the American public, the true nature of Stalinism and Soviet policy at a time when some still took a benevolent view of our wartime Soviet ally.

Book Review: The Good, The Bad and the Multiplex: What’s Wrong With Modern Movies? by Mark Kermode


January 9th, 2012

His opinions, though held intensely and vocally, are often unpredictable: he has long maintained The Exorcist to be the greatest film ever made, but has also in the past championed the work of Zac Efron and the Twilight franchise, and has recently taken to insisting that Jaws is actually a movie about adultery rather than, say, a large shark.

Book Review: The Hillary Effect by Taylor Marsh


December 20th, 2011

There may not be space in a blog post to let the reader weigh the words and come to their own conclusion, guided by your discreet commentary, but this habit of GLOSSING EVERYTHING IN ALL CAPS grates across two hundred and fifty pages. There’s little rhetorical virtue in having the last word in your own paragraph.

Book Review: Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith


December 15th, 2011

For an artist who vied with Rembrandt in painting self-portraits, van Gogh seldom allowed himself to be photographed. The one surviving photo, from his days at Goupil’s, shows a scowling, tousled haired young man with troubled, searching eyes. It is the face of a man destined to be a prophet or a lunatic.

Critics’ Picks: Best Books of 2011


December 11th, 2011

Our book reviewers select the best books of 2011.

Book Review: Verdi and/or Wagner: Two Men, Two Worlds, Two Centuries by Peter Conrad


November 28th, 2011

Perhaps, the best way of approaching Conrad’s book is to regard it primarily as a meditation on creativity. As with opera itself, where passion and empathy lead, intellectual appreciation will follow. The key insight of this fine book is easy enough to grasp. In an age of strutting nationalism, both Verdi and Wagner gave the world music that ultimately transcends the limits of borders or political ideology, regardless of how subsequent regimes used it.

Book Review: Christ to Coke: How Image Becomes Icon by Martin Kemp


November 21st, 2011

The Vietnam War had been shredding bodies and hopes for so long that it hardly seemed possible that a single image of human conflict could pierce through the war’s futility and touch our hearts. And then photographer Nick Ut captured “The Girl in the Picture” on film. He aimed his Leica M-2 camera and with one quick “click,” Phan Thi Kim Phuc, became a symbol of the horror of the Vietnam War and by extension all wars.

Book Review: Literary Brooklyn by Evan Hughes


November 8th, 2011

In his new history of the borough’s development you can virtually trace the emergence of America most talented writers, among them figures like Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, Thomas Wolfe, Bernard Malamud, Richard Wright, Norman Mailer and Arthur Miller. They, among many other notables, were residents in that “outlandish place,” and, it would seem, most often by choice!

Book Review: Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin


November 6th, 2011

The happiness was not to last. More Scrooge than Bob Cratchit in some respects, he was not particularly fond of his sons. Charley, his eldest, he deemed to be suffering from a “lassitude of character” and he did not see much hope for the others. He worried they might metamorphose into his father or his brothers, relying on him for handouts. And he was becoming thoroughly sick of Catherine.

Book Review: The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia


November 1st, 2011

David Abulafia’s new book about the Mediterranean Sea, The Great Sea, has everything a major work of history requires. An important theme, solid research, magnificent writing and a perceptive insight into human nature figure prominently in the pages of his study of the body of water that the Romans called mare nostrum, “our sea.”

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