Book Review Roundup

07/06/2010 11:49 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Too busy celebrating America's independence to bother with book reviews? Don't fear, we've rounded up the best from this holiday weekend.

"Lucy," Laurence Gonzales
The New York Times

Think of a contemporary version of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" in which an egotistical scientist's creation is not a hideous-looking monster but a well-mannered teenage girl who quotes Shakespeare, listens to Tom Petty and uses Facebook and YouTube. This is the high-concept premise of Laurence Gonzales's lumpy new novel, "Lucy."

"The Spot," David Means
The New York Times

It does indeed require light to shape and configure an image of darkness; thus, chiaroscuro. Yet in "The Spot," Mr. Means's new collection, the dark is so impenetrable that the reader is apt to feel lost in it.

"Skating On Stilts: Why We Aren't Stopping Tomorrow's Terrorism," Stewart Baker
The Los Angeles Times

Baker concludes: "If you've wondered why, eight years after 9/11, we're still looking for weapons and not for terrorists, now you know. Privacy advocates turned the use of even ordinary data like travel reservations into the policy equivalent of a toxic waste site."

"The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," David Mitchell
The Los Angeles Times

David Mitchell's new work, "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," is conventional in more ways than one. Not only is the novel, set in Japan at the end of the 18th century, the least experimental book the British novelist has ever written -- in fact, it cleanly passes as "historical fiction" -- but with each passing book, he embraces a new genre, an innovative approach to fiction that has become the two-time Booker finalist's quirky signature.

"The Icarus Syndrome," Peter Beinart
The San Francisco Chronicle

Though Beinart has a penchant for hackneyed sloganeering - "Now the days of reckoning have arrived"; "American optimism is - and always will be - one of the great wonders of the world" - he possesses the analytical skills of a seasoned historian. The result is a book that's generally enlightening, save for a few notable annoyances.

"American Dreams," H.W. Brands
The San Francisco Chronicle

You read the front page, you recoil from cable news and you ask, "How did we get here?" How did a bygone America - quarreling but not snarling at home, respected rather than targeted overseas - become the testy, troubled country we live in? Best-selling historian H.W. Brands offers answers in a single book.

"168 Hours," Laura Vanderkam
The Wall Street Journal

We tend to think of time as limitless, even as we complain that there's never enough of it. In "168 Hours," Ms. Vanderkam attempts to guide us toward a better awareness of time and how to manage it. Her thesis is that we have more time than we think: Subtract 56 weekly sleeping hours (eight a night) and 50 for work, and you still have 62 unscheduled hours each week. Husbands and wives talk to each other a mere 12 minutes a day. What in the world have we been doing with the rest of the time?

"On Evil," Terry Eagleton
The New Republic

Terry Eagleton has written a book about evil in order to demonstrate that there is no such thing. Evil, he writes, is boring, supremely pointless, lifeless, philistine, kitsch-ridden, and superficial. Lacking any substance, it "is not something we should lose too much sleep over." People can be wicked, cruel, and indifferent. But the concept of evil, with which theologians and philosophers have wrestled for centuries, can be safely tucked away.

"Wilson," Daniel Clowes
The Guardian

Bereaved and bereft, a middle-aged divorcee sits at the edge of a children's playpark and indulges in regrets over the family he might have had. But within moments he interrupts his reverie to call out: "Hey! Can you get that brat to shut up for two fucking seconds!?" Welcome to the world of Wilson, self-declared "people person", misanthrope, gasbag, egomaniac and dog lover. Daniel Clowes has created a monster, but a monster who refreshes our empathy for humans in all their unloveliness.

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