Book Review Roundup

05/29/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Did you miss the weekend's book reviews? Check out some of the highlights below.

"The Lotus Eaters," Tatjana Soli
The New York Times

If it sounds as if a love story is the central element in "The Lotus Eaters," ... Ms. Soli's book is sturdier than that. Its object lessons in how Helen learns to refine her wartime photography are succinct and powerful. By exposing its readers to the violence of war only gradually and sparingly, the novel becomes all the more effective.

"Caught," Harlan Coben
The New York Times

Mr. Coben has the edge when it comes to popcorn pacing. His once-enveloping stories now move at a breakneck clip not unlike James Patterson's, though at least Mr. Coben still writes chapters longer than three pages. Since anything and everything can happen in the berserk world of "Caught," none of the suspense carries much weight, and no character has time to become particularly sympathetic.

"The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama," David Remnick
The Los Angeles Times

For "The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama" -- a brilliantly constructed, flawlessly written biography -- Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Remnick interviewed our 44th president about winning the Oslo honor.

"Solar," Ian McEwan
The Los Angeles Times

The happier surprise and the reason why "Solar" succeeds in spite of its creaky finish is McEwan's sense of humor. Here's a writer who began his career more than 30 years ago with grim, perverse novels and short stories about incest and violence. His recent work has skewed less macabre, but still -- not a lot of laughs in the McEwan backlist. In fact, he recently told an audience that he hates the comic novel, saying "it's like being wrestled to the ground and being tickled." And yet "Solar" offers both high-minded amusement in its skewering of environmentalist, postmodern and objectivist pieties, and, in the North Pole scenes in which Beard braves subzero cold and a hungry polar bear, something awfully close to slapstick.

"The History of White People," Nell Irvin Painter
The San Francisco Chronicle

Nell Irvin Painter's "The History of White People" is perhaps the definitive story of a most curious adjective. It is a scholarly, non-polemical masterpiece of broad historical synthesis, combining political, scientific, economic and cultural history.

"Daring Young Men," Richard Reeves
The San Francisco Chronicle

Reeves' book takes us back to a time when the American commitment to freedom was exemplified by its military in ways that aroused admiration at home and abroad. The "daring young men" were not perfect, but they were heroes, and we acknowledged them as such. Today, when the United States struggles with two wars only grudgingly supported by some of its citizens, Reeves' account is a welcome reminder of the importance of a military willing to take risks to preserve freedom. "Daring Young Men" brings to life a moment when altruism, guts and know-how inspired our country and saved a city.

"Getting In," Karen Stabiner
The Wall Street Journal

We can wring our hands about the arduous college-application ritual that ambitious young people endure during their high-school years. Or we can salute the intense competition because it means we live in a country with lots of stellar schools and countless highly qualified students scrambling to attend them. Karen Stabiner's novel "Getting In" falls into the pity-the-kids camp, which makes it a lively and entertaining if fundamentally predictable tale.

"The Best American Non-Required Reading 2009," Edited by Dave Eggers

This collection may not be "required reading", but it feels liked required writing. Unmarred by the demands of the publishing industry, these pieces are mandated by authorial impulse and instinct. These authors blend quality with the kind of instantaneous relevance we are accustomed to in the world of digital over-saturation.

"The Discretionary President," Benjamin Kleinerman
The New Republic

If Kleinerman's argument is finally unconvincing, his book nonetheless offers many rewards. Hobbes, Locke, Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, and Lincoln march splendidly across its pages, dispensing wisdom in extraordinary prose.

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