Page by Page: Book Reviews

The Roots and Persistence of the Idea of Decline

This book is as much a manifesto as a work of history. The manifesto is timely, important, and utterly persuasive. The history is a bit more complicated, but nevertheless offers an eloquent explanation of much that happened in the long history of Rome and its empire. Watts follows a long series of modern thinkers in […]

Remembering “The Poor Indian”

With his new biography of Jim Thorpe, David Maraniss has once more written a book about a seemingly transcendent sports figure. Thorpe is widely recognized as one of, if not the, greatest athlete of the twentieth century.

Memory, Politics, and the Fight Over History

The volume makes it hard not to sympathize with Tibetans, but to her credit, Tsering Woeser makes it clear at several points that Tibetans were not simply victims of Chinese authorities; they were also guilty of transgressions in the Cultural Revolution. Her larger point may be that humans in any group are capable of acting in ways that can shock others, and even themselves.

The Only Woman in the Baseball Hall of Fame

With little of Effa’s own words and personal details, the book is less a biography than an overview of how systemic racism played out in her childhood, in her young adulthood living in Harlem during the Renaissance and in the arc of the Negro Leagues. Despite the lack of Effa’s voice, however, this is a story worth telling and even more worth reading for a young audience.

How to Write a Popular Baseball History Book

Make no mistake. Our Team is a wonderful book in this sense. It is easy to read. It tells an interesting story built on thorough research in newspapers and secondary sources, skillful organization, pleasant writing, and narrative drive. Epplin gives each of his four main characters equal attention in an account carefully woven out of the cloth of several seasons. For the baseball fan, either serious or casual, even if one’s favorite team is not the Indians, this book can provide several hours of pleasure.

The War in Spain Recalled in the Main as Heroic and Inhumane

Much of The Lincoln Brigade involves actual warfare, action scenes that have little to do with the heroism of Boy Commandos but a lot to do with the grimness of EC war comics. Blood flows. Victories are followed by defeats, and by the end of the comic, we approach the present with old men’s memories.

The Words That Made the Fab Four Famous

Neither The Lyrics nor The Beatles Illustrated explains the mystery of the Beatles—how did these four guys from Liverpool create so many remarkable songs in such a short period of time?—but both books, but especially The Lyrics, allow us to once again marvel at the work itself and gain a bit of insight into the imagination that helped create it.

Down The Mean Streets of St. Louis

What makes Little Brother important and a must-read certainly for St. Louisans is its powerful account of a slice of Black life in our region, a vivid picture of the good and the beautiful and the bad and the ugly of North County, a life cordoned off from the rest of St. Louis as if it were a leper colony. Westhoff’s account of the families, the male bravado, the petty crime, the violence, the art and aesthetic of its rap culture, all of this is worth the price of the book. For what Westhoff reveals is the vast profundity buried in the absurdity of Black urban life that also reveals the inadequacy, hypocrisy, and flawed nature of White bourgeois life.

The O. J. Simpson Trial as the Rorschach Test of the Decline of American Culture

In Bailey’s version of the trial—as the subtitle of his book declares—he was the master strategist and courtroom impresario while Robert Shapiro was the bumbling and increasingly envious knucklehead who blew the preliminary hearing, believed O.J.’s best option was to seek a plea deal to manslaughter, and, when he learned that the jury had reached a verdict, made a panicked call to Alan Dershowitz to prepare the appeal.