BOOKS
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Book Review Roundup

We're back again with your weekly book review roundup:

"The Talented Miss Highsmith", Joan Schenkar
The New York Times

Schenkar's writing is witty, sharp and light-handed, a considerable achievement given the immense detail of this ­biography. Highsmith was a detail junkie. Schenkar's nonlinear organizing method was a brilliant idea to save herself -- and the reader -- from data overload.

This is a biography of clarity and style. A model of its kind.

"The Vintage Caper", Peter Mayle
The New York Times

...[W]ine is clearly the main character. And the book generously flows with vinous minutiae. By the time Levitt returns to America, readers will have learned much about the history of winemaking, the key wine regions, various auction houses, critics and books -- and even how to lift finger­prints from bottles.

"The Man in the Wooden Hat", Jane Gardam
The Los Angeles Times

In the end, perhaps, there is something inchoate about Betty, who calls herself a "post-war invertebrate." She is, for all her proto-feminist impulses, defined by her relationship with Filth, while he -- not in fact a 40-watt bulb but a stranger, much more incandescent creature -- is self-propelled.

So "The Man in the Wooden Hat" retains the feeling of a subsidiary work. And yet without it, these scenes from a marriage would be woefully incomplete. It turns out that even a (relatively) silent partner has something important to say.

"Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time", Joseph Frank
The Wall Street Journal

To understand Dostoevsky's often savage satire or nightmarish visions or just the conversations among the Karamazov brothers, one needs to grasp not only the text but also the ideological context. To both of these there is no better guide than Joseph Frank.

"The First Tycoon", T.J. Stiles
The San Francisco Chronicle

A recent winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction, "The First Tycoon" surveys a man who was born during the Washington presidency, had almost no formal education yet amassed a fortune of $100 million and set the mold, Stiles argues, for a rough-and-tumble free-trade economy that still exists.

"London Boulevard", Ken Bruen
The Washington Post

The prolific Irish crime novelist Ken Bruen writes books that are by no means profound, but are violent, cynical, irreverent, often hilarious and always fast-moving and fun. In his new "London Boulevard," Bruen makes an interesting departure by combining his usual bloody crime drama with the plot of Billy Wilder's 1950 movie classic, "Sunset Blvd."

Hitler's Panzers: The Lightning Attacks That Revolutionized Warfare", Dennis Showalter
The Washington Times

Mr. Showalter's book has its flaws. He can be a writer of dense prose. Sometimes he takes for granted that his readers are conversant with World War II history and context, especially when he writes of events on the Eastern front. Also, given his comparisons and descriptions of scores of weapons systems, a dozen or so pages of photographs would have been hugely welcome.

Those caveats aside, "Hitler's Panzers" provides some valuable lessons from past wars that may help us understand how such qualities as audacity, imagination and daring, and micromanagement, bureaucracy and indecisiveness can - and do - affect the way we wage war today.

"Horns", Joe Hill
The Heart Is a Lonely Reader

Just as every culture has their own way of understanding and interpreting "The Devil," Hill creates his own version, this one with a compassionate streak, an affinity and affection for the serpents who seek him out, a snarky sense of humor and rock'n'roll soundtrack. Hill also effectively withholds actually coming to the devil conclusion until long after his readers have made that decision for themselves, which is nice because it doesn't make the issue a forgone conclusion - after a while it would be easy to take for granted Ig's condition, but Hill's a better author than that.

"Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche", Ethan Watters
Shelf Awareness

Ethan Watters stirs up one controversy after another in this provocative study of mental illness diagnosis and treatment in cultures other than our own. In the best investigative reporting tradition, he examines the incidence and current treatment regimens for anorexia in Hong Kong, schizophrenia in Zanzibar, depression in Japan and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia following the tsunami of 2004.