Page by Page: Book Reviews

Southern Comic Valentine

There was something about Mayberry that evoked a kind of Southern nowhere-ness. It was the not the New South of Henry Grady, not the romanticized South of a natural and benign unequal social order like Thomas Nelson page’s. How could Mayberry be that when it had, amazingly, no black people?

Tourist Street With a Backbeat

Bourbon Street: A History takes a single street as its focus to reveal the multiple overlaps and interrelations of different cultures and different histories. This method has its costs, at times exchanging topical breadth for depth.

Ten Easy Pieces

Marcus’s chosen form, media’s coveted “listicle,” is of the moment. But, at first glance, his subject matter is not. Who even talks about “rock ’n’ roll” anymore?

Last American Maestro

The facts of Bernstein’s story—the scope of his talents, the velocity of his ascent—still amaze. His natural gifts were embarrassingly rich: ferociously intelligent, musical, and social in equal measures. But Bernstein was also lucky—in the right place at the right time again and again and again.

“Just As I Am”

While Graham retained authority over the use of his voice, it is unclear how much control he exercised. Graham’s appeal seems closer to that of a capable politician than a shrewd marketer in that his greatest coup was getting people from strikingly different walks of life to believe that he both represented their views and could serve as their moral guide.

“Other Things To Hide”

Hughes gives us a pleasantly dense tale of the shadows in Richard Nixon’s mind that might have been there even without the Chennault Affair—assuming he would have been elected without the Chennault machinations. We can never know if it determined the election outcome, but one major consequence of the Affair that we do know was Watergate.

100 Percent Franzen

Franzen’s strength is probing concepts we have been raised to emulate or strive for. The question of how secrets can either fester or come out is treated on practically every page of the novel.

The Marshall Plan

Absent the convention of an “Introduction,” the reader of Debi and Irwin Unger’s new biography of George C. Marshall must get well along in the narrative before its purpose is grasped. From then on, clarity about what the authors are about intensifies: an attempted take-down of the historical reputation of the man generally regarded as America’s finest public servant in the 20th century.

Lawmen

Two new biographies reveal that police work is not so simple and straight-forward—cops versus robbers, order versus chaos—as many might think. Those enlisted in the job of enforcing the law are more complicated in their impulses and motivations, more conflicted or contradictory as human beings about the meaning of what they are doing, than partisans of either side willing to concede.

Chicago Dreams Deferred

Renegade Dreams aims to uncover the new dreams of a post-industrial, 21st-century urban black community, and in the author’s words, to “reframe” the dreamers apart from the rioters, gangsters or savage youth so often portrayed in the media.